When will social TV take off?
Is 3D printing part of “the total digital experience?”
Does the fact that I can use my mobile device at Coors Field to order food service, post the pic of my family at the game to the jumbo-tron and use the stadium wifi to simultaneously post to Facebook as well as my mom’s digital picture frame mean “the total digital experience” has arrived?
How about cracking the genome? When will health care reap the benefits of this monumental advance in technology? Why do most of us still have to enter the same information on pen and paper every time we visit the doctor?
What exactly does “the total digital experience” mean? And in what context(s) are we trying to define it?
Ask 50 CMO’s to define “the total digital experience” and you’ll likely hear 50 different answers, narrowly focused on the digital experiences they believe their own customers want — as opposed to the broader view of the impact the digitization of our world means across the larger spectrum of social, cultural, academic, political, and economic experiences.
This is the context in which the definition of “the total digital experience” must fit. But before we get to a meaningful explanation or definition, let’s go analog and take a Polaroid – let’s not get into that sad story – of this moment in time.
The “Total Digital Experience” Hasn’t Arrived Yet
The digital wave we’re riding today is truly the stuff of imagination compared to just a decade ago. But it really isn’t a “total digital experience.” Yet. Today’s digital ecosystem isn’t really an ecosystem. It’s a fluid, fragmented, streaming mass of structured and unstructured data that, unlike the magically seamless systems and connected experiences portrayed in Hollywood (think SkyNet or Minority Report) is years away.
What we see today is just the beginning. Today’s digital wave will, like the metaphor, likely lead to untold future waves. What will these waves bring? Will they combine, or congeal, or coalesce to create a “total digital experience?” If so, what will it look like? How will we know when it’s arrived?
Here’s What We Know
Digital technologies will continue to permeate the world around us. Anything and everything that can become interactive and connected likely will, extending into areas of our lives we simply didn’t imagine a decade ago:
And the list goes on. From biometrics to interactive POS to car telematics to social networks to the LHC. Our world is becoming digital, atomized, sentient and, in most respects, “smarter”. Everything we can feel or touch – and in some cases, imagine — is becoming digitally aware, and increasingly connected by a near-ubiquitous fabric of social technologies, communities, and networks.
Peeking around the corner, though, we can see that today, it is far from “total”.
A Framework For What The “Total Digital Experience” Might Look Like.
“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future,” said Niels Bohr. After, of course, he’d already won the Nobel Prize for basically creating the model for quantum mechanics. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s take a leap of faith past Bohr and postulate what the future may hold from what we know and see today – what could “the total digital experience” look like?
Here are a few guiding principles that seem to make sense based on what we know today:
Faster And Faster
No characterization of “the total digital experience” would be accurate without calling out the single most disruptive attribute associated with the digitization of our world.
We talk about the zetabytes of data being created every week by companies or government agencies. The size of our digital world is truly staggering. But it pales in comparison to the speed with which people and companies and governments and organizations of every size around the world have to deal with increasingly fast streams of structured and unstructured information.
Velocity has been — and will likely be — far more disruptive than digitization. So while digitization is the catalyst for enabling faster and faster movement of information, creativity, and innovation, Speed will “likely” create new cultural rifts between those who can keep up and those who cannot; reward the innovative and crush the laggard; and force more collective societal, cultural, economic, and political change than any other prevailing force.
Disconnected Systems Become Connected and Intelligent
Today’s “streaming mass of structured and unstructured data” will likely become synchronous and intelligent. We’re now standardizing the basics of connecting and gleaning intelligence from massive repositories of raw data from disparate systems. If, for example, every car and mobile device is location-aware, won’t we use that data to create better traffic control systems and consumer transportation experiences in real-time – synching individual auto and phone carrier systems with city, state, or federal systems to intelligently create information, education, entertainment, and environmental efficiencies?
Cisco’s “Internet of Everything” , the Center for the Digital Future, and Digital Futures represent three of many other initiatives at the core of tapping into and drawing inspiration from the long term advances at the intersection between ICT and society, economy, environment, politics, humanities and other key enabling technologies and sciences. The next wave of the digital backbone that results from these individual efforts will, at some point, likely converge into a more connected and intelligently informed world.
Most of the digital experiences we count as innovative today are one-way, unidirectional experiences. Future digital systems and experiences will likely turn everything digital into bi-directional communication.
Take today’s digital medicine bottle top-cap. You know, the new digital cap on the bottle of codeine you need to get over the strained knee you now have because you’ve entered another cross-fit challenge next year and your training has amped up. Even this will become bi-directional – it will (likely) auto-synch not just with your pharmacy (as it can today, to alert for refill) but it will receive a feed from your iWatch (or some other wearable) to predict pill usage based on performance data streamed from the device. It will be “alive”, learning as you exercise, receive and send information, and plan its own need to alert the pharmacy before you figure it out because the ache gets worse. A small example, for certain, but telling nonetheless.
Apple’s Siri and TouchID, along with BMW’s Mobility Systems, are harbingers of bi-directional, connected systems and experiences. Our digital knee brace – or Siri – will be alerted that our knee hurts, which will alert the bottle cap as well as the pharmacy as well as the car (to find the nearest pharmacy because you’re out training and not near your local pharmacy) and your wife, so that she knows you’ll be late. The systems will talk to each other bi-directionally, acknowledging your inputs and predicting your required / desired behaviors. All under the rubric of “if you want them to” do all of this. We control them, and can turn any or all of them on or off.
“The more digital things become, the more human we need to be.” Speaking of Siri (insert snarky response to bad pun here), “the total digital experience” will likely be less about technology than it will be about people. Today, live chat has re-created online customer service. Sales reps equipped with tablets and other smart technologies drive higher revenue and better customer service by instantaneously rationalizing global inventories to meet customer expectations.
As systems become truly integrated, synchronous, real-time, and informed, the prevailing protocol of communication and interaction will be something like this – the more an experience is created and delivered through digital technology, the more human it will need to be. We crave human interaction, online and offline, whether at Nordstrom, in your dentist’s office, at the DMV, or at Lambeau Field. Technology will mimic human interactions and interfaces – but at its best and highest use, digital experiences will more quickly, smartly, and meaningfully connect us with people. And get out of the way of the human to human interaction at the core of most of the experiences we are looking for.
Intuitive and Predictive
The poster child for predictive Big Data is Target, retailer who pioneered the art and science (because yes, Big Data is both) of predictive analytics to drive marketing, sales, customer service, and business planning.
But the future will take what we see now and re-package it for proactivity. Smart, connected, sentient systems will likely transform most digital experiences from reactive (e.g., walk near a digital sign and it personalizes the advertisement to each passer-by) to predictive (e.g., as you pull into a parking lot your car alerts the advertising and promotional “systems” governing the mall’s retail connectivity, so that everywhere you go your experience is completely tailored to you – without you having to do anything – from promotions that show up on your mobile device or wearable, to the clothing that is already there for you to try on because your personal concierge knew you were looking for summer threads).
If the world around us is increasingly architected from bits and bytes, and every new generation is increasingly capable of manipulating bits and bytes because they know how to code and have experience making digital things, then it’s not a stretch to think that everything is hack-able.
Crowd-sourced, Sharable, and Collaborative
Today, we see companies like auto manufacturers morphing into collaborative digital experience providers – BMW’s Mobility apps connect people to other people, things, and experiences they want and need, such as ParkatmyHouse – “a collaborative and social sharing app that brings together owners of private parking spaces and people in search of parking. The platform creates an additional supply of parking by making privately owned spaces available.”
Tomorrow, as analysts like Jeremiah Owyang have been reporting on for the last 18 months or so, a collaborative economy will likely create significant turbulence for entrenched enterprises that resist. “The crowd is becoming the company. In recent news: Google bets big on Uber to take down Amazon. Google funded Uber with $258 million in September 2013, which is the largest investment ever by Google Ventures. This money will be used to link Uber to Google Shopping Express, self-driving cars, mobile apps and more, to compete directly with Amazon.”
As Shakespeare so lyrically put it, “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” We are living at the dawn of a new age that is already predominantly visual and will only become more so. Today, if it’s not visible, it’s not believable. The “visualization of everything” is also coming to mean transforming — what would Ovid have written about Icarus flying too close to the sun if he could have watched what it’s actually like to fly like an eagle on YouTube? Would there have been an Arab spring if the self-immolation video did not achieve massive viral sharing across the globe?
Screens are everywhere today, and that trend will only explode as surfaces we never thought would become visual, do. Like air. And they will be bigger, higher resolution, and multi-touch – and dimensional. Think Iron Man. We’re not far from that. Gesture-based interaction. Soon, your brain will be able to control your television through our own innate human Bluetooth. Digital is helping the blind to digitally see – it’s helping the near blind to actually see. So we are at the dawn of an entirely new visual age.
©2015, The Tomorrow Project, LLC