“Our goal was to create Private Eye meets Shoreditch Twat” – Q&A with Steve Price and Camilla Grey of Can’t Understand New Technology

If you've ever felt frustrated about the self-satisfied smugness permeating the tech industries, you'll identify with Can't Understand New Technology, the tongue-in-cheek rag by creatives waxing lyrical on what they really think of tech.

Starting off as a heavily inebriated bid for attention fuelled by martinis, red wine and a bigger thirst for making a mark in an otherwise ego-saturated, populist-soiled industry, Can't Understand New Technology pokes fun at some of the more ridiculous side-effects of Silicon Roundabout with contributions from the oft-frustrated Shoreditch crowd. The mag is run by editor Camilla Grey, strategist at Wolff Olins, and Steve Price, creative director of Plan B Studio, who takes charge of design.

Now The Drum has joined forces with Can't Understand New Technology to publish the next edition alongside The Drum's print edition this Spring. And to whet your appetite, in this blog we will publish one article a week – previously only available in the hard copy publication – to give a flavour of what it's all about. To join the conversation, tweet @TheDrum using the hashtag #cantunderstandnewtechnology.

Illustration of Steve and Camilla by Flo Heiss

The Drum has partnered with Can't Understand New Technology, a satirical publication poking fun at the Shoreditch digital scene, to publish its third edition on 16 April.

We caught up with the brains behind the venture – Steve Price, creative director of Plan B Studio, and Camilla Grey, strategist at Wolff Olins – to find out what compelled them to take aim at some of the more ridiculous aspects of the advertising industry.

What was the thinking behind Can't Understand New Technology?

Steve Price: Camilla and I had long since shared and commentated on all things ‘digital’ and ‘technology’. Indeed we first got to know one another through Twitter; so it can’t be all bad, right? It was born, like most things, from a frustration with what was being created and how it was being talked about.

Camilla Grey: The way creativity and technology was being written publicly seemed so at odds with the spirit in which it was being created. All the designers, artists and technologists we knew were passionate, opinionated, ruthless, dedicated and relentless. They always had a story to tell and a point to make. Until now, this side of the industry was rarely showcased.

SP: We wanted to put something out there we felt was for and (more importantly) by the industry. An honest insight into how we, and our contributors, felt about technology, creativity and design.

CG: Our goal was to create Private Eye meets Shoreditch Twat.

How did it travel from conception to reality?

CG: Steve drove it really. He had used The Newspaper Club to do small print-runs for his own projects before, and – of course – knew how to put a piece of print together, while I’d spent several years at Moving Brands rounding up designers to write for the blog. Between us, we had both the skills and the single-minded determination to bring it to life.

What are your respective roles?

SP: It often feels like a kind of Cagney and Lacey, Dempsey and Makepeace or maybe just Only Fools and Horses but I would say I am the bad cop and Camilla is the insightful, smart, quieter, good cop. I’m the one who wants more swearing, more directness. I always wanted Can’t Understand New Technology to be more hard-hitting, more honest, more brutal.

CG: It’s true. I’m definitely the more cautious one – often awake in the middle of the night worrying if I’ve given the right feedback to a contributor, or if the distribution list is correct, or if I’m going to get fired for slagging off agencies. But Steve’s the real creative force behind it, and keeps me from playing it too safe through a perfect mix of gentle encouragement and outright bullying.

SP: If Camilla is the brains, I’m the brawn. As the art director and designer with no budget for photography or illustrations I have to make do and make. As a team we agree on the theme of the next issue, discuss contributors and set about approaching them. Camilla wrangles the contributors and gives feedback, then once all the pieces are in we formulate a flatplan and I get to work on designing it. All of this takes place online – Skype calls, Google Docs (there is still a doc titled ‘Steve’s drunk ideas’ formulated on the night we decided to create the newspaper), Facebook IM, G+ IM(!) SMS and even the occasional telephone conversation.

What's the reason for keeping it print only, aside from select pieces published on The Drum website?

CG: Personally, I was interested to learn (and remember) how stuff got made, shared and enjoyed before the interwebz. I had to improve my attention to detail, because if I didn’t spot a typo there wasn’t much I could do about it. I had to be better organised, because those first 200 copies didn’t package, address and post themselves. And I had to accept that if we liked it, that was all that mattered, because we weren’t going to get hundreds of RT’s or “likes” within seconds of publishing. All wonderful lessons. But I still prefer the new way!

SP: There were four reasons I can think of. One, it is rare to get anything in the post these days; hell even my bank have stopped sending me statements because I’ve opted for paperless communications with them. Two, Can’t Understand New Technology is ironic because we can understand new technology! Three, print is not dead and to create something only in print felt like we were making more of a statement. Four, it is a crowded and all-consuming world of information, links, videos, and cats. We didn't want to add to the noise.

Did you have any trouble convincing people to write for you?

SP: No. People have always been very positive about the concept and the name and the purpose – to our face at least!

CG: I’m going to get in trouble for this, but I have to say that I felt quite let down by the ladies. Quite a few said they’d write and then dropped out at the last minute. I’m all for the sisterhood, but it felt wrong to extend deadlines or give special help to the girls just because they’re girls. If I can co-produce an entire newspaper as well as working full-time, so can they! >Jumps in the air, high fives Sheryl Sandberg, freeze frame

Were you surprised by how many gripes people have?

SP: Not at all. Most people start out in the advertising and design industry full of hope, youthful optimism and passion. The hope slowly erodes, the youthfulness might drop-off and the optimism can often turn to cynical pessimism, but the passion never dies.

What sort of reaction have you had?

CG: So far it’s been really good. The fact that it was a small print-run, distributed to our friends around the world and hidden away offline certainly protects it from snide Twitter trolling and anonymous commenting. I was very apprehensive about the reaction from my colleagues, but on the whole people have been really supportive and enthusiastic. What’s more telling are the people who say nothing at all – they’re the ones who really fucking hate it!

How long did it take to produce the first edition?

SP: From inception to distribution I would say a couple of months. The bulk of the time was spent on the idea, the strategy behind tackling it, approaching the contributors and then the production. The design usually takes me less than a week because I try not to be too precious about it, but at the same time incredibly precious. For us, it is adding in the small details where we are satirising technology in print.

CG: We used some of the language of the web (LinkedIn endorsements, loading bars, and beachballs of death), to highlight the ridiculousness of both print and digital.

SP: We had Skype alert panels telling you that ‘Laura has come online’ because we are childish like that and it makes us laugh.

What's the most ridiculous piece/application of technology you've come across on your journey?

SP: Ironically our publication either heralds or assassinates new technology. For me I have a big bugbear with most wearable technology – you only need to read their PR to really appreciate the gargantuan amount of bullshit to sell what is effectively a watch that tells you your phone is fucking ringing. My mate at school invented Google Glass – he Sellotaped a rubber to his thick-framed NHS glasses and pretended he was a robot; this is not far off Sergey Brin’s vision – Elliott, you should sue them.

Do you think the advertising industry takes itself too seriously?

SP: Yes. (CG: Full disclosure, Steve had ranted on for SIX paragraphs answering this question, so I made some sensitive edits).

What's the thinking behind this edition's theme of taste?

SP: An opportunity to discuss the usual; what is good and bad. Mainly we try to create a theme to give our contributors (most of whom are not professional writers) something to spar with.

CG: ‘Taste’ felt like it gave our contributors a lot to chew on (if you’ll excuse the pun), and they’ve each approached it differently and brilliantly. You should DEFINITELY buy the next issue of The Drum.

Can’t Understand New Technology Issue 3 is published alongside The Drum on 16 April. You can pre-order a copy by contacting jordan.geary@thedrum.com.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.

Come on in, it’s free.

This isn’t a paywall. It’s a freewall. We don’t want to get in the way of what you came here for, so this will only take a few seconds.