In a week where a shuttle landed on a comet and Kim Kardashian bared her backside to the world, there’s one name that keeps popping up; Shingy. No surname, just Shingy, like Prince or Cher. His story has been doing the rounds this week following a profile in The New Yorker where his role as AOL’s ‘digital prophet’ was examined with all the objectivity of a political broadcast.
We first heard the term ‘digital prophet’ a few months back, during a split-screen MSNBC appearance which then did the rounds on Twitter. It’s a memorable visual which placed Sir Tim Berners-Lee, world-renowned father of the internet, next to Shingy, looking for all intents and purposes like a lost member of The Cure, and his now infamous, over-the-top handle.
The details on what exactly differentiates Shingy (hairdo aside) from a whole host of journalists and ad executives remain frustratingly vague. After all, his claim to “listen to where media is headed and figure out how our brands can win in that environment” isn’t exactly unique in 2014. Plenty of people make it their business to identify upcoming trends, and “attending conferences” is not usually the kind of competency that commands six figures.
Apparently AOL Advertising’s Erika Nardini relies on Shingy to tell her what’s happening, and calls him her “muse”. Meanwhile, CEO of AOL Tim Armstrong uses him as a personal decorator; a recent project involved Shingy “rebooting” Armstrong’s office, replacing the desk with chairs. The words “emperor”, “new”, and “clothes” come to mind.
Valleywag’s Kevin Montgomery dismisses the ‘digital prophet’ moniker as “the kind of gig that can only exist mid-bubble”, and describes Shingy himself as “everyone’s favourite corporate muppet.” Maybe that’s unfair. Maybe Shingy really does know his stuff. You could say it is rather telling that much of the recent, scornful coverage of Shingy has focused as much on his appearance as it has on his aptitude for spouting buzzwords. And describing himself as “a caffeine free, gluten free, raw food sort of guy” is bound to induce more than a bit of eye-rolling in certain corners of the web.
Are we just being snobs? Would we rather our rich people be pasty twentysomething Silicon Valley entrepreneurs or gruff stuffed shirts, as opposed to eccentric fortysomethings with a fondness for hair product and nail polish? As tech writer Chris McCrudden speculated on Twitter; “If Shingy had a short back and sides, would anyone begrudge him his salary?” I honestly don’t know the answer to that. And frankly, I’m more than a little preoccupied, trying to come up with my own suitably grand job description (not to mention growing out my quiff).