Column: The Technology Mirror

February 08, 2013  |  Jake Norman  |  Comments

Tech-filled headlines ignore what gadgets predict about human behavior

Between smartphone makers, video game companies and the countless mobile tech startups vying for venture capital, the headlines are rife with exciting tales of emerging gadgets, screens and phones. But I think the real story is not about things, but about us.

What does technology mirror and magnify about human behaviour? And what does that mean for marketers and businesses going forward?

Though it was more than a month ago, I’m still taken with what I saw at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. It is a global foreshadowing of what’s to come. Some of the technology will become ubiquitous, some will end up in the trash heap of ideas, both good and bad, that never became real. However, for me the focus should not be on specific technologies and ideas, but rather on the cultural shifts a technology embodies – the human behaviour that will become mainstream. It is these emerging cultural trends that are the key takeaways from this invaluable event.

Constant Connection
The distinction between offline and online continues to erode. Coming generations will not think about connectivity and technology, they will just think about the way that they want to live. The need for people to clarify that things happened IRL (in real life) will go away.

This is fueling a consumer expectation of seamless interaction not just between them and their devices, but between the devices themselves. Moreover, they will expect those devices to organically become smarter while reacting in real time.

Two prime examples of this at CES were the connected home and the connected car.

While the idea of the connected home has been around a long time, mobile devices, wireless and device connectivity have made it a reality. Nest is the poster child for the connected home. Not only does it measure and allow you to control your home’s temperature remotely, but it learns and acts independently.

Auto was huge at CES this year and new technology promises to bring the car into the connected lifestyle and out of the digital ghetto. New products are facilitating connectivity on the road in a safe fashion. Audi had the most impressively designed presence at the show, including a car recently licensed for autonomous driving. It can take over when required while built-in navigation software can guide you to your destination based on nothing but a photograph of building.

Fact Checking
Now that both personal and corporate data are widely available, many mobile consumers have taken to managing their own data set. The next wave of this shift will be an increased interest in generating, curating and reacting to personal data. This was evidenced at the show by the volume of conversation around health products.

In the beginning, this cultural shift will be about personal usage (e.g. finding detailed nutritional information for food products to shape a healthy diet), but the potential of businesses using this on an aggregated and anonymous level is immense.

Consider Hapifork and Fitbit Flex.

Hapifork promises to help you lose weight by vibrating and flashing if it feels that you are eating too quickly. Meanwhile, Fitbit Flex is similar to Nike Fuel Band’s concept, allowing you to not only measure your physical activities, but chart food intake and sleep as well. As such, its promises to turn everyday life into a path to fitness.

Couch Creativity
Last year we saw a rise in the amount of time that people spent pursuing and manifesting creativity. This trend is likely a reaction to both the pre-recession mantra of consumption and then accelerated by the world’s new focus on data and numbers. As such, it is a counterpoint to fact checking.

In 2012, the poster children of this trend were Etsy and Instagram. But in 2013 the mantle may pass to 3D printing companies such as Makerbot and photography companies including (surprisingly) Polaroid.

At Polaroid’s CES display, you could take and then print digital pictures directly from the cameras. However, they also announced further demonstrations of the fusing of the real and digital world. Its Fotobar stores aim to solve the (#uptown) problem of having numerous pictures on your phone but nothing physically printed. The store allows you to print photos from any device in a variety of sizes including high quality poster size. Finally, in a reverse of fitting cameras into phones, the M1836 camera (less than $400) offers interchangeable lenses and runs on an Android operating system to allow seamless digital sharing.

While still a new technology, 3D printing is pretty amazing to watch as the machines “print” physical objects. For example, everyone in Makerbot’s CES demonstration area could print their own iPhone cases. As the price for this technology drops (it’s now below $3,000) and the software expands, we are getting close to these machines moving out of the corporate office and into the geek’s bedroom.

Jake Norman is president and chief strategy officer of Mindshare Canada

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