I’m excited by technology. I have been as long as I can remember. A childhood of Star Wars, comics and the cult ‘Book of the Future’ (after which my own blog is named) left me dreaming of a future world of fast-changing gizmos. Many of my dreams have come true, but as I get older it is the cultural impact of technology, as much as the gadgetry itself, that interests me.
It feels like we’re in the middle of some very significant cultural and societal changes at the moment, driven by technology. Here are a few of my top areas to watch:
Privacy and Personalisation
These two are different sides of the same coin. The prevailing trend over the last five years has been for people to share more and more of their personal data online. The more they share, the better companies can target them with products and services. Some people see this as better service – personalisation – while others see it as an invasion of privacy. The split is only semi-generational but the balance seems to be moving clearly towards those who are happy to share in return for reward and engagement from their preferred brands.
This isn’t a licence for companies to ignore privacy concerns: anybody working in this space, as I am with CANDDi, needs to think carefully about how people will take to the collection and use of data about their preferences, and design their service to meet people’s concerns.
Touch and Tablets
When I’m out selling I rarely prepare a slide deck anymore. At least not one that I expect to stand at the front of a room and deliver. Instead I pull together some examples and diagrams on my iPad and pass that around the audience when I need to illustrate something. I also use it for taking notes: the lack of a vertical screen creates much less of a barrier between me and whoever I’m meeting than a laptop would. These changes bring audience and presenter, or the participants in a meeting, closer together. They take the formal edge off the event and rebalance the power relationship.
The tablet has also changed the nature of home Internet use, making it a much more tactile, social experience. It has changed the way that the whole user experience for the web needs to be designed, with apps filling the gap until websites can be rebuilt for the touch experience. It’s not – yet – the end of the keyboard and mouse, but has proven that other interfaces can provide a more human interface to technology and information.
Cash and Commerce
I get sent quite a lot of gadgets to test. I’m wielding one around my wrist at the moment: a watch with an integrated pre-paid card. Just by touching the watch to MasterCard PayPass points I can pay for small purchases up to £15. Where the PayPass is installed it is a lot more convenient than scrabbling around for cash, and really no less secure (arguably it is more so). I can also top the card up online from my smartphone via online banking.
What does this mean? I think it means the end of cash, within my lifetime and possibly in the next decade. Like vinyl it will hang around for minority uses but most of us will carry fewer and fewer coins and notes. No more searching for change for the parking meter. No more queuing at the cash point. I for one won’t be sad to see the back of cash.