The Real Side Of Digital
By Brennen Schlueter and Todd Unruh from www.trends.richards.com
No one said it better of our age of digital ubiquity than Nicholas Negroponte, founder and Chairman Emeritus of MIT’s Media Lab. In 1998 he said, “Like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only by its absence, not its presence.” Digital ubiquity is here, and currently at the core of the experience are our mobile devices. The mobile hub is developing rapidly and will continue to be a critical centerpiece for some time, but as the Internet of Things continues to grow and weave itself into every aspect of our lives, the connection to the average person’s mobile device becomes less critical. Our connections to these new digital experiences will be innumerable and will go far beyond our mobile phones.
The rapid growth of this digital ecosystem is staggering. According to a white paper from Dave Evans of Cisco, “The Internet of Things: How the Next Evolution of the Internet Is Changing Everything,” the number of connected devices exceeded the number of humans several years ago in 2008 and has been expanding dramatically every year since.
The Pew Research Center reports in a recent study about digital life that the Internet of Things will be evident and impactful across almost every aspect of our lives.
- Bodies. Many people will wear devices that let them connect to the Internet to get feedback on their activities, health, and fitness. They will also monitor others (their children or employees, for instance) who are wearing sensors or moving in and out of places that have sensors.
- Homes. People will be able to control nearly everything remotely, from how their residences are heated and cooled to how often their gardens are watered. Homes will also have sensors that warn about everything from prowlers to broken water pipes.
- Communities. Embedded devices and smartphone apps will enable more efficient transportation and give readouts on pollution levels. “Smart systems” might deliver electricity and water more efficiently and warn about infrastructure problems.
- Goods and Services. Factories and supply chains will have sensors and readers that more precisely track materials to speed up and smooth out the manufacture and distribution of goods.
- Environment. There will be real-time readings from fields, forests, oceans, and cities about pollution levels, soil moisture, and resource extraction that allow for closer monitoring of problems.
From the Internet of Things to the Internet of Experiences
This new age of digital connectedness means far more than an Internet of Things, of devices, of apps. It means an Internet of Experiences. As the digital and physical begin to merge in new, innovative ways, it will be the unique experiences created that will be the most meaningful and valuable. The technology will become increasingly invisible, delivering a more direct connection between the user and the desired experience. But all of this digital connectedness can overwhelm. For many people, it drives a desire to disconnect and simplify just to gain back control in an increasingly cluttered digital life. The challenge for marketers will be in trying to find ways to help people gain more control over their digitally connected lives and find ways that technology can enhance and complement more “real” experiences.
We seek authenticity, individual craft, and experiences that connect us in more “real” ways to people and experiences. More and more, the time we spend in our digital realm seems less valuable, less meaningful. Becoming undigital is a new adventure to which many are drawn. So if our apps, social media, Internet-connected homes, and other digital connections sometimes get in the way or leave us unfulfilled, what do we really want? Looking closer, some themes and reasons emerge:
- People want more control of time.
- Being present in key moments, being undistracted.
- “Real” experiences make people worldly, knowledgeable, and interesting.
- Disconnecting feels different and pulls people out of the everyday routine. It helps them engage and do something meaningful.
- People want real, exclusive, never-repeated experiences with friends and family.
Creating Connected Experiences That Feel “Real”
The basis of creating more “real” experiences means that we must find elegant, artful, and technologically advanced ways to merge the digital with physical experiences. Bridging these two, usually separate, domains of our lives requires a meshing of software and hardware. To get it right, the personal and contextual elements of the experience must be meaningful, simple, and intelligent, and the technology needs to be invisible. Only then will the definition of what’s “real” be redefined.
Currently, applications providing this digitally augmented “real” experience are rarely found simply because of the immense amount of data needed to understand and personalize a user’s experience. There are, however, a few applications pioneering contextual experiences from digital data. Microsoft Cortana, Google Now, and Google Inbox are leading the category in understanding users’ digital data, providing anticipatory and contextual information from traditionally unconnected touchpoints. These represent early success in bringing contextual and anticipatory digital layers to experiences that typically require user input. The magic of this technology is its ability to anticipate user needs based on preferences, search history, and email contents.
Sensors are unlocking our ability to connect with the physical world in ways like never before. With sensors like the beacons created by Estimote, we have already seen the technology evolve, in a matter of months, from large, location-sensing blocks to nearly unnoticeable sensors the size of stickers that will help make nearly anything a smart thing. As these sensors become smarter, and smaller, we will have a flood of data available from our physical surroundings and our experiences with them. As the physical and digital merge, it will bring new context and relevancy and create a new kind of experience.
Operating System for Connected Devices
The final piece to creating more “real” digital experiences is an operating system to effectively connect the physical and digital channels, and support a simple user interface to help drive mass adoption and innovation. There are many operating systems being developed for the Internet of Things; one of the most versatile and easiest to use is If This Then That. Originally created for the social Web, If This Then That (IFTTT) has been reimagined to allow users to create unique recipes by connecting data gathered from software and hardware with the purpose of minimizing or eliminating user input.
Finding “Real” in Branded Experiences
As brands find their way into this growing ecosystem of digital connections, they must remember that the real potential is in facilitating an Internet of meaningful, trusted experiences for people who are increasingly wary of our new digital ubiquity. We must help people identify and implement better ways to control their digital domain, connect on their own terms, and create more meaningful experiences in a world where disconnecting will be easier said than done.
Guidelines for the new hyper-connected world:
- Uncover opportunities where your brand can create more “real” experiences, where the digital layer always enhances and makes the physical experience more meaningful.
- Resolve to never be part of the digital noise. How? Focus on anticipation and providing relevant information right in the moment that a person needs it.
- Develop and leverage technology that helps enable everyday experiences to be unique and gives people a sense of exploration and discovery.
- Provide and hide. Put contextual information and opportunities in front of people, then get out of the way. Let the experience happen in a personal way.
- Don’t try to touch every moment. Find the natural connections and leverage those.
- Prepare for a massive amount of new data that will be gathered and analyzed for opportunities. Long-term success in creating these new connected experiences will depend on the insights that surface in this data.
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