As I sort through nearly 2 gigabytes worth of pictures of my kids, I can’t help it but feel overwhelmed. There are literally thousands upon thousands of pictures and short videos that we shot over the past eight years, yet the struggle is not only with the volume, but the notion that you can’t help it but feel somewhat disconnected from the screen displaying these images. I’m not trying to be nostalgic, but growing up, our family had about eight albums that captured many key moments, but each photo, no matter how good or bad, was somewhat cherished. It told a story and has a strong sense of meaning. There’s something to be said about appreciation for the physical. The experience of flipping through an album, sharing it with someone, telling a story and gauging his or her reaction.
In the digital age, we now find ourselves scattered across dozens of platforms. We hold our conversations through a multitude of channels. We selectively share on various social media sites and tools. While it all somewhat fulfills a sense of social belonging, we’ve never had a time where there was so much digital noise that needs heavy filtering to get to what’s really important. Another FB post, another tweet, another periscope broadcast? What we’ve lost is meaning.
Digital migration has stripped away many of the artifacts that helped define us. Books are gone from shelves, records, cassettes and compact discs sit in landfills and photographs have turned into thousands of digital photos. What’s missing is the meaning that physical artifacts brought to our lives. Would you prefer 20 Facebook birthday wishes on your timeline or 2 handwritten cards by mail? You may argue it is convenient, and it sure is great to have 10,000 photos and 200 books on my iPad, however as humans, we tend to value the experience of physical things much more than digital.
Last week, Amazon introduced Dash Button, a simple button that let’s you replenish some of your household goods such as laundry detergent or coffee with the push of a button that in-turn prompts Amazon to ship you the product. The Dash is a perfect example of an early representation of a trend that I think we’ll start seeing happening in droves – the digital being represented as physical again. We’ve seen other products emerge such as lifeprint, a tiny printer that prints out your instagram photos.
We’ve done a decent job at abstracting everyday activities into compelling user experiences. The way we communicate, socialize, shop, date, travel has changed forever due to a massive amount of innovation that’s been build on the internet. Anywhere you go, you can witness just how successful it’s been when you observe how many people are either using their phone, or are holding it nearby. Abstracting content into our new window to the world ignited a high-stakes battle between technology giants and start-ups that are all vying for our attention and information. However, our 4” window to the world is quickly becoming crowded and noisy. The time and focus that are needed to manage all the apps we use just keeps growing, and technology addiction and FOMO (fear of missing out) are becoming commonplace, impacting every generation.
As everyday things become connected and smarter, our interactions will continue to blend physical and digital, without the abstraction of a device or even a user interface. Shopping online and in store will be seamless. Your beer is empty at the bar, wave your hand above it and it quickly gets refilled. If you’re running low on laundry detergent, just shake the container and you’ll receive a new one in an hour. Imagine that!