There has been a lot of talk lately about the mobile revolution. A shift which is here to stay which will forever change communications, commerce and culture. But most people are wrong about this revolution. Yes, mobile living is here, but it’s not about that piece of technology which lives in our pockets. No, the mobile phone is a symptom, not the cause.
The mobile phone is really an inevitable invention. In both the agrarian and industrial era we became less itinerant as a species. We instead invested our time on farms, then institutions and factories. We built suburbs and shopping centers and structured the largest parts of our working and social lives in tiny geographic clusters. We shifted our living structure from itinerant opportunists (think hunter gatherer) to become sedentary factors of production. Widget living within, and upon the industrial machine. Mind you, the machine was a better option than life before it arrived. It made us richer, smarter, taller, warmer, cooler, healthier and less hungry. But the machine (the industrialized world) has now began to set us free to explore again. Which was the wayit always was prior to this 200 year human anomaly. Industrial systems became so profitable and improved living standards so much, that technology has conspired to bring back mobility. Mobility will be a defining life pattern for humans as we move into the next era of our species. Certainly this is the case with developed economies. The exponential deflationary effect of technological developments has created a new form of mobility in many corners of life. Most of which occurred well before the symptom of the mobile or cell phone emerged.
Let’s consider of these examples:
- How much more mobile is your working life? How many offices, workplaces, co-working hubs, conferences do you attend? How often do you change jobs and commence work in a new suburb, city, state or country?
- How often do you eat out? Our parents went out on special occasions. We now eat out a number of times a week and even go our for breakfast or cross town for the best coffee.
- How often do you catch an Airplane? Something that was once the domain of the rich, is now something we do at the last minute to go see a music festival a thousand miles away. Since 1990 the amount of passenger miles in travel has increased 4 fold, while the average price of a 1 hour flight has more than halved.
- Even Space travel is back! Every billionaire worth his salt has started a private space travel venture as the final frontier is even being democratized.
Compare the above examples to how our parents and grand parents lived.
Our lives are becoming more mobile in every way, because we are no longer tied to the factory or the farm. We are now entering the 2nd phase of human hunting and gathering, but this time we are hunting for information, creativity and culture. All the stuff we lost during the standardization that came with the industrial era.
So when we think about the mobile revolution, we owe it to ourselves as entrepreneurs to consider human movement, and not just a single piece of technology we take with us in our pocket.
TV was the first entertainment screen in our lives and belonged in the living room. And it stayed there for the best part of 30 years before it multiplied. Slowly, it made it’s way into the other rooms of the house. It was linear and unidirectional, but it was also the start of a new culture. A culture that would shape more than entertainment.
In less than 20 years since the birth of the graphical web, screens in all shapes and sizes have started to pop up all around us. They’ve made things simpler, easy to understand, and just made life better. So much so, that screens now permeate virtually every aspect of our lives.
I call it screen culture.
And it’s much more than TV, web browsers and smart phones. It’s every screen we see. All web enabled, all around us and consumers expect the screens to serve them without a hitch.
They’re in our pockets, they’re on our desk, the car dashboard is now a screen, on the back of airline seats, the airline check in counters, supermarket checkouts, shopping centre directories, in all retail spaces, in the back seat of taxi’s, bus shelters, community spaces. They exist where ever communication and commerce does. Every machine now has a screen. Every time we interact with technology, the interface is increasingly screen enabled. And we often attend to multiple screens concurrently.
The more we learn about the screen, the more it learns about us. The best screens can be manipulated, touched, caressed, controlled and even spoken to. It’s our job to humanize the screens so that they are culturally sensitive. They need to intuitively know what we want… and lead us to that solution. The interface has to be the instruction manual. Screen culture demands that we teach people “how”, while they interface. That the learning, and the solving, happen simultaneously. The screens need to serve us. We must be able to navigate the tight spaces of the small screen, if we can do this, then conversion to the big is easy.
This can only happen when we design as humans, not technologists.