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Chin up

By Tom Petty

“Anyone want another drink?”

*tap tap tap*



*pinch to zoom*

BBC Radio 4 would call you a Zeitgeister, The Guardian newspaper? Something annoying like The Digerati, but I’ll simply refer to you as One Of Us. We are those that love nothing more than making things out of emerging technologies. The chance to create immersive experiences that ooze ground-breaking-yet-intuitive interactions has been given to every one of us, and my god have we taken it.

The good news is, as an industry, we’re killing it. An amazing new product promising to re-define [insert non-problem here] is launched every week. Cue millions of downloads. Congrats, a billion dollar valuation!

The bad news is, as an industry, we’re killing it.

In an astonishing feat of supersonic-darwinism, we’re now so good at browsing, tweeting, tagging, snapchatting, sharing, and IM'ing, that we don’t actually bloody talk to each other any more.

All this well intentioned hard work has led to the now ubiquitous scene of a group of friends not chatting to each other. A hyper-connected drone army with a hive mind, they don’t need to talk to communicate, they have smartphones instead. It’s like a scene from I, Robot. I’m coining it iRobot.

I’ll prove it. If you’re reading this on public transport, look up: I bet all you can see are the tops of heads, fingers tapping away on tastefully designed interfaces. And if you’re out with someone but still reading this: you’re part of the problem. You’re a disgrace. Go and talk to your mates instead.

“Crisps then?”

*three-finger swipe*

All these exciting new sites and services are so good that we don’t want to do anything else. No one wants to talk to one friend standing next to them, when they can spy on dozens of old classmates and keep up with Rich Kids of Instagram. The problem is that we’ve made it all too much fun.

The upshot is that, as the creators of the problem, we’re in a position to get us not just back to ‘normal’, but a better, more enjoyable normal. What’s most needed are services that improve every day life in The Real World. I’m not going to use Airbnb or Hailo as examples (oops) of businesses using smartphones to enhance our daily routines. I’ve been doing that for a while now and, frankly, I’m bored of it. What I’d love to be doing instead is reeling off a list of a thousand things that use these incredible new pieces of technology to improve my actual life. That make the real world more interesting than my iPhone. Unfortunately, I can’t, but that’s where we come in. This is our chance at redemption.

All this is especially exciting if you’re in the energy, food, healthcare, or transportation business. These are the oft-overlooked industries that make up the fabric of our lives; who else is in a better position to make it all a bit better?

Let’s stop encouraging the generation of content, sharing, and general detachment from our surroundings, and instead start championing products that promote deeper engagement with the world at large. By focusing on people and not users, it’s much easier to think about lives that exist outside of a standard use-case. Lives that we can sex up a bit. After all, Real Life is just Instagram without the filters.

Tom Petty is a designer at Wolff Olins London. You can follow him on twitter @tp.


Image via ABC