While recovering from one of the most miserable mornings in recent memory, due entirely to hanging out with one Brian J. Brennan (who just barely made it out alive himself), I decided to flip through a nearby May 2012 issue of Wired. The small headline story was on Klout, which has been on my mind lately, but I was more interested in the big cover feature of Marc Andreessen.
Unless you work in or around Silicon Valley, Marc Andreessen is a name that probably doesn’t ring a bell. But over the last few years he’s been predicting, and subsequently shaping & funding, digital services like Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter; services that shape how we consume and digest content in the information age. Not all of his successes are things we use every day, but hands down the most important one – the one that makes him as relevant today as it did almost two decades ago – is something you’re using right now. Be it on a desktop computer or mobile device, Marc Andreessen is the father of the modern web browser.
So now that you’ve taken a second or two to catch up on Google or Wikipedia, let’s get back to the magazine. Wired is celebrating their 20th anniversary next year with a series of profiles on tech icons, fittingly doing a retrospective on them while asking them what they envision for the future of technology.
Wired has a great interview with Marc, and it really tells a story of a curious guy and his willingness to explore and create rather than sit on the sidelines and observe. Since reading the article one thing has been nagging at me, and it’s this quote:
“…It’s something I think is inherent of the technology–what some thinkers refer to as the “technological imperative.” It’s as if the technology wants to happen.”
Which he promptly follows up with….
”Technology is like water: it wants to find its level.”
The emphasis is mine, because I think he’s right. Around the same time my bleary-eyed, hungover self happened upon the Wired piece, I’d been re-reading Adam Greenfield’s Everyware about the very world we live in today. Today, both inanimate objects and the everyday interactions we have with them are changing because we’re making these products come alive by connecting them to the web and letting them alter our experiences with the data we feed them. Privacy and ethical concerns around that data aside, this is a very good thing. For everyone.
But what does that really mean? In theory, let’s take Minority Report. The technology in that film felt so futuristic when it came out a decade ago, yet practically all of it is in (at least) early stage consumer use today. That’s the kind of societal leap in adoption of technology we haven’t seen in, well, frankly ever. Really, most, if not all, of the objects and interactions in that film would be possible today if it weren’t for massive, lengthy roadblocks in getting the technology to consumers.
But that’s beside the point. If all this tech is there, being built at breakneck speeds and is going to change our lives, then why isn’t everyone using it?.
Quick answer? It’s confusing as fuck! And sometimes just plain ungodly expensive for the company and consumer alike.
Like the technological imperative, people also want the technology to happen. But they also want to get to adopt it together. As a planner, my job is to think about you, – yeah, you! – the consumer, first and foremost. No one understands or really knows what I do. So I spend a good amount of time educating clients, friends and, most hilariously, my parents on what I do and why it’s important, often with bizarre results. I once compared myself to Jane Goodall (but that’s another story for another time).
As someone who gravitates to this stuff (nerd er’rday!), I don’t have a problem picking up and understanding radical technological concepts, nor do any of my peers. But your everyday consumer isn’t ready for you to radically change their daily routine on a whim, at least not without serious repercussions. A great example is walking into any *Apple store and seeing people’s reactions to figuring out how to pay for their purchase. Seriously, just watch for a few minutes. There’s no point of sale anymore at most modern Apple stores, which, if you’re a shopper, is like, you know, where you pay and all. And for a business like Apple, which thrives on making all of its experiences engaging and enriching, this radical change in retail convention couldn’t break down that end user experience. Knowing this, Apple steadily began educating its consumer base about this new type of retail experience years before beginning to build their new, POS-less stores, which had been designed to devote more retail space to their petting-zoo-like product showcase. And that’s not even mentioning the development of the Apple Store App, which gives iPhone 4 & 4S users the ability to book Genius bar appointments, do personal pickups and (my personal favorite) check yourself out.
Educating our clients and consumers is really a win-win for everyone. It helps everyone understand the pros, cons and struggles we face in making anything for anyone and everyone. While on the subject of making things for consumers, if that’s your job, you should read this everyday before work. It’s good for you.
Admittedly, this is all branding 101, but it feels like more and more we’re forgetting the importance and values of a well-made product or service. Whatever we do, whatever we make, we have a responsibility to help everyone move forward. It’s not about promoting altruism in our respective creative endeavors, but understanding. And the more people that do, the more fun and innovative things we can build when we get there. Together.
Creative + Brand Strategy, Producer, Creative Director,
Gitamba is one of the co-founders of The Retrospective & Deft Collective along with Caitlin Schiller and Phil Nacionales. He has worked and produced work for Odopod, Evolution Bureau, Stage Two Consulting, and Tribal DDB. Gitamba has an education in design, years of experience in brand cultivation, and a passion for culture.
*The views expressed in this post are strictly Gitamba’s and do not reflect the opinions of past or present clients/employers.
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