This is a blog post I wanted to write for a long time, but I couldn’t find the right opportunity to do so. Pokemon Go has given me that chance. When reality and technology are uniting again, an endless world of opportunities is opening to.
Digital technology has been and still is working on absorbing what we call reality and transcribing it in a series of ones and zeros. This transcription has been descriptive and destructive of reality. When I say destructive it means, that the transcription in the digital world caused the destruction or disappearance of physical components, which is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, digital documentation saves millions of trees every year.
Sensory, physical experiences of the world are getting increasingly rarer. There are multiple factors to explain this. It is undeniable that digitalization has had the biggest impact on our perception of our own lives. I personally can’t think of any moment I am completely disconnected. When I’m sleeping my phone is on to wake me up in the morning, I wake up going through news about home (8hours time difference), during the day I’m always working on my computer, to relax I watch TV or run, I listen to music when I cook, I run with my apps on, I always go out with my phone.
Tell Me What Matters
All these technologies are making my life better in the sense that they are enabling me to save so much more time, and achieve so much for tasks than if I didn’t have them. The catch is that instead of spending more time having more real life experience, I spend more time doing more things in front of my screen. I think this can be explained by multiple factors. First, we always want more as soon as we get what we have. A second element is that these tasks; that technologies are supposed to manage for us, might be key components of living. Is the experience of physically buying a book simply a barrier between you now and you reading the book, or is this is experience also an end in itself? That’s a grey area of new technologies, and categorizing what is a means to an end and what is an end should be one of our priorities. I believe that technologies are doing that categorisation for us, and many successful businesses have thrived by creating stories by categorizing a product, an experience or an activity as one or the other.
For example, if I’m an online grocery store. The story I will tell will be accentuating the fact that we spend too much time going to the shops, carrying heavy bags around, walking back home in the rain when instead you could be spending time with your family, taking yourself, and so on. Shopping is a means to an end in that scenario. If I’m a grocer my story will depict your life as series of tasks performed in front of your screen. I’ll show you all these people in my store holding colorful vegetables, smelling fresh coffee beans, literally laughing out loud with the employees. The computer is a means to an end, shopping is an end.
Story-telling has a much deeper and meaningful impact on our lives than we imagine; it is fundamental to know what is important or not. What is important (ends) may be broken down in today’s paradigm into a few categories. I can think of family, money, good social situation, unique experiences, health, being a good person. In that picture, whether we are reaching these goals in the outside world or in front of the computer doesn’t really matter. The exception is living unique experiences, or at least feeling like they are. However, these experiences or not lived in everyday life. I think there are many instances where a physical experience is the final output of a new digital innovation. For example, travelling websites, different online comparators, online reviews have given us the tools to have the best possible experiences at the cheapest prices. However, I hear a bittersweet note when someone says ‘I felt so alive’ after a bungee-jump, because it makes me wonder if that person feels ‘alive’ the rest of the time.
Everyday life is perceived as a chore, something you must endure to be able to live those real moments.If real, physical experience of life is not the fastest lane to reach your goals, then it makes sense to completely disconnect from that reality.
Connecting, Disconnecting, …
If we see the world as being made of men and women using their free-will alone to make decisions; we can say that we chose for our lives to be lived that way because that is what we rationally think is best for us. And I can’t really argue against that vision of the world.
However, I can’t help to think that the way new technologies is structured and displayed has a major impact on how we use them. There are an array of studies, which analyze how the slightest change in the display of a product, can completely modify how much time people spend on the given product. If Facebook, didn’t beep would you have checked your phone, watched that video Sarah sent you, and watched that second video recommended by Facebook’s algorithm?
Like so many other assets we humans have been digitalized in so many aspects. An extreme example of how the digital became more important than the physical reality is can be seen in finance. The digitalization of physical assets aggravated the disconnection of financial products with the physical assets they rely on. GM for long lost money on car sales, but made tremendous money with their financial services. If you are familiar with daisy chain in the context of oil freight, you know there is no doubt that the oil cargo itself is of almost. You don’t want to buy physical oil, it’s unpractical, on the other hand, a title for oil is much more precious. What you want, is to see is x$ on your screen, not in your hands.
The digitalization of humans has taken many forms. Until recently, this digitalization has taken targeted aspects of our lives, transformed life into an input and made the screen the final output. For example, if I like reading I will go to the library, ask questions, maybe buy a book then read the book. All of this can be digitalized: I can go on Amazon, read reviews, download a book. The final output is my screen on which I’ll read the book or the headphones with which I’ll listen to it.
Another way the digitalization of humans occurred, is by the transfer of identity information. The input is not aspects of our lives; it is what literally defines us as being us. The whole wearables movement is going to have a significant disruptive impact on accelerating that digitalization of our lives. All the components of our identity will be digitalized. Age, height, sleep pattern, sports performance, location, temperature, hours spent in front of a screen. This information is not a disconnection of reality, as these are not physical experiences, but data. However, with that information, you can give considerable incentives to change lifestyles.
Reconnecting and Rewiring
Now there is a shift which pushes towards other types of outputs. Where the technology pushes the user beyond the screen as a final output. This doesn’t mean that the screen is not an output, it is simply combined with another output in a hybrid form.
Going a decade back, I can think of a few instances of projects where physical experiences and digital ends started to fuse. For example GPS technologies, have and are helping us to go from point A to point B. However, strangely, this type of technology is not really what we think of when we think of the mixture of the physical and the digital. I remember when I was younger I couldn’t wait for these video games where physical movement would be transcribed into a digital one instead of using a keyboard or a simple controller. To me, that was the ultimate mix of physical and digital realities. Even if I still find it extremely cool, that Wii started it, I still think that there is much of a theoretical step made between the controller that we manipulate with our fingers and the Dance Dance revolution. That is because, we use our body as an input, and the output is the digital reaction. (However, you might argue that the output is the workout you get and the sick new dance moves you learn.)
In recent years, I think we have been increasingly thinking about the real theoretical gap where the output is of a completely different nature. The output is not real or digital, it is a mix of both. Google glass offered a crystallisation of our thought of conceptualising a way of going beyond the screen. The brilliance of this project was to try to create a world in which we can experience both types of outputs at the same time. This simultaneous occurrence dismisses the idea that it is simply an aggregate of the two output instead, it would have created something that is more not quite one or the other. Maybe that’s why it failed, maybe it has to be one or the other.
Now, does Pokemon Go create that pure hybrid output? I have a hard time answering that question, I believe that for every perspective on the game lies a different answer. For those not familiar with the game. You have to walk around your area to catch Pokemons. the game guides you to tell you where you are most likely to catch a specific kind of Pokemon. When you reach it, you look at your screen and can see the Pokemon standing in front of you (your camera catches the background). One can say that the final output is the screen because, what you want is to catch Pokemons, and have them stored on your phone. Others can say that by telling you where to go, the app is running a command, that you as a human are executing physically for it. So the physical experience is the output. then with your cam” era you have that weird mix of augmented reality that is hard to put in one category or the other.
Pokemon leveraged multiple innovations to reconnect people with the outside world. But they did not rewire users the same way. There is a new lens which is dictated by the app, and will influence where users go. I can’t think of any other technology which has had such a tremendous subversive impact on users physical actions.
I strongly believe that thinking about how to create new ways to experience and connect with reality is necessary to prepare our future. By that, I mean that usually technologies are seen to improve reality. But in the case of Pokemon Go, reality becomes the playground of the digital.
In our day of age, the lines between the digital and the ‘real’ are extremely blurred. Those who saw it coming are the ones who could leverage that knowledge to develop a range of product and services which are immensely successful: Snapchat, Uber, Instagram to cite the most obvious ones. The success of these apps greatly relies on how we experience our everyday lives (or maybe they shaped it). And now all the big companies have to adapt to these changes, marketing is nothing like it was. One of the interesting shifts can be seen in how now consulting firms are putting a lot of their efforts into building digital section (eg Deloitte Digital) which are slowly overtaking the original businesses.
This shows that having a digital strategy is getting more important than anything else. Whether this is a good thing or not is not up to me to judge. The problem with a lot of these strategies is that they conceive the digital as an abstract construct. It is important to contextualize such strategy, by identifying a concise purpose and by precisely defining the material assets it is trying to serve.