I did a presentation for a group of Guardian folk a couple of years ago. I wrote it up here. It was fun. And more importantly for me, it was useful, because I've been doing some variant of that presentation ever since. To the point I'd been starting to get really bored with hearing the same ad-libs. So I was rather pleased when they asked me back to talk again yesterday, and said, don't do any of that old stuff. Do some new stuff. I felt like Jerry Seinfeld going from this to this.
It wasn't great to be honest. It was OK. Got some laughs. Made some points. But wasn't as smooth as I'd have hoped. I need some time to get it working properly. But I thought writing it up on here might also help me improve it. Make me put it down in words rather than just slides and hand-waving.
I guess my main thrust was about 'post-digital' thinking. Which sounds good doesn't it? What do I mean? Hmm. I mean a few things:
1. Screens are getting boring. It's really hard to impress anyone with stuff on a screen any more. However clever you've been. However much thought you've put in. However good the tech is. No-one's impressed. They've all seen better stuff in ads and movies anyway - when will onscreen stuff be as good as that? Whereas doing stuff in the real world still seems to delight and impress people. Really simple stuff with objects looks like magic. Really hard stuff with screens still just looks like media.
2. There are a lot of people around now who have thoroughly integrated 'digitalness' into their lives. To the extent that it makes as much sense to define them as digital as it does to define them as air-breathing. ie it's true but not useful or interesting.
3. The stuff that digital technologies have catalysed online and on screens is starting to migrate into the real world of objects. Ideas and possibilities to do with community, conversation, collaboration and creativity are turning out real things, real events, real places, real objects. I'm not saying that this means that these things are therefore inately better, or that the internet has 'come of age' or any of that nonsense. I just mean that there are new, interesting things going on IRL and that they have some advantages (and penalties) that don't apply online.
I'm not sure I really said any of that yesterday but it was what was in my head.
Given that 'Post Digital' idea, these were some things I thought it might be interesting to talk about.
The first one, I have to confess, was not wholly new. It was a truncated version of what I said at Design Engaged and Widgety Goodness. Mostly bits of this, this, this, this and this. My basic point was that the assumptions about how advertising works we're baking into our media tools are wrong. And so we're making bad media tools. Things that will piss people off. I think that's largely because while Google and the rest of the clickonit scientists were relentlessly implementing a mechanistic, message and relevance based model of how advertising works the thoughtful bits of the advertising business (admittedly not large in number) had their head in the sand denying the existence of anything digital.
I do want to revisit this stuff, and it's implications, especially in the light of Julian's brilliant stuff here, but I won't do so right now.
So, by now, we're all very comfortable with people's desire to share all sorts of stuff about themselves. Data is/are streaming out of us into the world. For instance, these are two significant bits of 2009 data are available on my daytum page: (no, I don't have any invites I'm afraid, I stuck my email address in and a beta invite arrived some time later.)
And we're all familiar with the oft-cited examples of products with datastreams. Nike+. Fiat Ecodrive. Wattson etc. And we're seeing the emergence of twitter as a brilliant communication channel for objects. From MarsPhoenix, to TowerBridge to the shipping forecast.
(Gorgeous botanicalls picture by Matt, from this set on flickr.)
Or, indeed via RFID. And having spent a few days mucking about with tikitags and the violet mir:ror and ztamps I thought I'd chance it and have a go at demoing how relatively simple technology can delight us so by operating in/via the real world. It's a bit scary doing demos that involve wifi at conferences. Especially with French technology. But it seemed to work OK.
I showed how sticking these two little rabbit fellas on the reader thing could make things happen: like playing the This American Life podcast, or reading the Guardian Unlimited RSS feed out in a strange voice.
Or how if you stick this copy of the Elves And The Shoemaker on the reader a charmingly BBC voice will read the book for you. I showed the little modifications I'd made to Cargo Of Eagles - using the RFID tags I'd stuck in the back to trigger a specific iTunes playlist as a soundtrack for listening to the book. And I also showed Boffswana's Augmented Reality working, which was touch and go to with the low-light.
Now I know these aren't leading edge techologies or anything. They're not indistinguishable from magic. But they're sort of delightful and they're very distinguishable from another boring microsite.
The point I'm groping towards is that as objects informationalise communication channels are getting built in. And there are ways of doing this that are mass, cheap and easy. Printing. Paper. Ink. RFID. And cleverer phones will be the perfect things to interact with these clever objects. This is what advertising and marketing and media people really need to get afeared by. All this web stuff is going to look like a picnic compared to the horrors that will be dealt to the agency and media businesses when every product has a communications channel built right in. And I suspect it's a channel that most brand-owners will feel a lot more comfortable with. Marketing/advertising was always a necessary evil for most businesses. And Something bolted onto the culture. And they've never liked ITV. And having to do all this social networking stuff gives most of them the willies. But integrating communication and information into the product is something they can get behind quickly and easily.
I think. I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this but I think it's interesting. I think there's a whole model here that integrates the conversation into the stuff, creating a much more natural relationship between people and things, with much less mediation in the middle.
Anyway. We're all bored with this now. I'll finish it tomorrow when I'll get round to the last bit of the presentation and the EXCITEMENT of PAPER.