As abstract as digital might be, there is a distinctly human component to what makes digital work. Maybe the French have it right when they kabosh the term digital, which literally means “of the finger” in French. In organizations and executive minds around the world, digital is a confusing issue.
I wanna get digital, digital
Whereas digital is abstract, a set of binary numbers, and considered eminently cold, the truth is that digital is another human invention. Just as internet can be magnificent and exciting, it has the ability to be dark and miserable… a classic reflection of human kind. The good, the bad, and sometimes, the ugly.
Whatever one’s belief system about the digital / online world, top executives need to get more comfortable with using digital tools, devices and platforms, surfing on their mobile, buying online, learning code. The better able top executives are living the digital world, the better equipped they will be to understand the digital transformation. In short, it’s about helping to increase leadership’s digital IQ.
Is digital getting more human….?
When you look at some of the trends in digital, it seems more and more obvious that digital is becoming a part of our fabric, evermore interwoven into our daily lives. Just as brick & mortar “traditional” retailers are figuring out the need to add (or accelerate) eCommerce to their mix, many pure player eCommerce sites (e.g. Amazon, Gilt, Netaporter…) are realizing the opportunity (need) to incorporate parts of the business back in the “real world.” Brands need to find where they want to play on the continuum between online (URL) and offline (IRL).
The human touch in eCommerce
Notwithstanding the very “real life” components of eCommerce, such as delivery, customer service, there are several other ways that eCommerce pure players are bringing in a more “human touch” into the consumer experience. In the case of Gilt, they have created a luxury magazine, Du Jour (right). Netaporter and Zalando (among others) have created pop-up stores. Amazon has instituted the Amazon Locker in 7-Elevens and other outlets in nine major metro areas around the US (albeit they have recently been booted from Staples and Radio Shack due to apparent conflicts of interest). Hointer, a pilot project founded by an ex-Amazon executive, has translated the best of an online shopping experience into a brick & mortar store (just for jeans). Bonobos, for guys who need a helping hand, has created their Bonobos Guide Stores.
Extending the human touch in digital
Digital tools and devices are incorporating evermore “human” elements into the technology. Some cases in point that show how the human component can be integrated into the digital experience:
- There is the elegant swipe across screens with the caress of a finger
- In the gaming industry, there are the real life steering wheels and seats for racing games (this has long existed)
- When two iPhones or Android phones loaded with the Bump app are physically bumped into one another, data and/or photos are exchanged. One could think of it as a digital handshake?
- We have seen some new advancements in facial recognition technology — supplemented by technologies such as FaceTime (Apple), Face.com (bought by and not to mention Facebook)
- There is the possibility of voice-activated commands on the iPhone (Siri) or on Google search (in Chrome) and now on Google Glass
- Apple launched the fingerprint sign-in on the iPhone 5S with iOS 7 (Sept 2013)
- Google acquired Flutter a developer of hand gesture recognition software (Sept 2013)
The return to analog
The quaint or nostalgic return to technologies of yore seems to continue to pick up steam. Whether it’s a counter-movement or a need for more authentic (aka imperfect) experience, we have the remarkable return of the vinyl record. There is the return of the print photo — especially relevant in a world where a morass of digital photographs is stored in unrecognizable files in unmanageable folders on your desktop. I smile when I see the old fashioned POTS telephone (see right). These have been fashion statements in designer homes and boutique hotels. You can also find cassette skins for iPhones (left). Just as there remains a fondness for the “old fashioned” hard-bound book and there may yet be a counter-culture move to fountain pens, there is an appreciation for the grainy sound of a vinyl, a reminder of our imperfect selves.
It seems clear that digital is becoming more seamlessly integrated into our psyche. The closer the technologies cater to our deeper human instincts, the more likely and the faster these technologies will be taken up.
Your thoughts? Are you scared or excited by some of the latest advancements?