The next tech revolution is underway. It’s not the dawn of the semantic web, or the mobile web, or web 3.0 or any of these buzzwords.
This revolution is about the people using technology, not the technology itself. It seems like the tech industry is finally waking up to the fact that most actual human beings really don’t care that much about processor power or RAM, gigahertz or gigabytes. What we care about is what all those numbers mean to our actual day-to-day lives.
For a long time the marketing of technology was guided by a Jetsons sensibility. In The Future we would all have robots to do our dirty work. In The Future we would do fun suff like zip around in flying cars. In The Future life would be easier, more pleasant, and offer more chrome surfaces.
All tech marketing had to do was invoke that In The Future feeling in order to sell more product. Talk about our impressive stats and technologies, the thinking went, and we’ll help people see that our products will help them live In The Future — the wonderful, easy, chrome future.
Then In The Future arrived, at least a little bit. We got our supercool iPhones and Blackberries and web sites that could tell us where to find the friends we wanted to see right now and web applications that could put us back in touch with the friends we’d forgotten about entirely.
And what a lot of us figured out, in relatively short order, is that In The Future kind of sucks. In The Future all those friends you’d forgotten about send you constant Facebook updates and the friends who come to find you on FourSquare are exactly the ones you’re trying to avoid and the iPhone that seemed like a lot of fun because you can play games on it actually turns out to be a lot of work because now you are never, ever offline.
But as much as In The Future sucks for you, the people it really sucks for are the technology marketers. Because now that you know In The Future isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, you’re not going to buy that fancy new computer upgrade just because someone shows you a lot of big numbers and shiny surfaces that make it look like that computer is The Next Thing. Buying The Next Thing is exactly what got you to In The Future, so now maybe you’re more interested in finding a way back to five minutes ago, when you could sometimes go up to 24 hours without checking e-mail.
Turning back the clock is exactly what the next tech revolution is all about. Not rolling back our technologies — after all, the technology isn’t the problem. The problem is how we’re using it: to rush more, work more, be and think less.
But we don’t have to live that way: after all, Intel doesn’t build information overload and personal exhaustion into its chips. We can find ways to use technology so that it supports the kind of work we want to do, the kind of lives we want to live. We can have a technology revolution in which we put ourselves first, and the technology second.
We can see the dawn of this revolution in a new breed of brand and social marketing campaigns that talk about technology not in terms of its coolness factor, but in terms of how it fits into your life. Like the Sabbath Manifesto covered last week in the New York Times: it’s a campaign that helps Jews reconnect to their traditions by framing the Sabbath as a day to turn off your iPhone.
Or look at the shift in how Apple — the shiniest, In The Futurest of all tech companies — is pitching its products. Apple’s now-famous there’s an app for that ads showcased the ways the iphone could be used at home or work, but it was all about tapping into that gee whiz, we’re living In The Future feeling. Gee whiz, my phone can is a compass?! Gee whiz, my phone can fit an entire bird book!? Gee whiz, my phone can play videos?!?
Compare that to Apple’s latest round of iPhone ads, which each zero in on an actual real-life scenario, and talk about how your phone can actually improve a specific moment of your life. Like the mom who uses her iPhone to film her baby’s first steps — and then connect with her whole family to talk about the big moment. Or the guy who can plan a complete evening out with his friend. Or the woman who uses her iPhone to have great family trips.
This kind of campaign isn’t about living In The Future. It’s about using technology to live better, right here and right now.