SXSW 2014: What about considered brands in the age of hyper innovation

March 11, 2014

Early this year, the front page of Time magazine focused on ‘The Mindful Revolution’.

In fact, there’s been a lot of discussion around the mindful trend hitting the main stream lately – and for good reason. Many people in our western civilisations are experiencing unprecedented levels of work intensification at this stage in man’s history, and whilst the Michelle Bridges cult of fitness and ‘healthy body = healthy mind’ living is still going strong, it seems like many are now seeking to gain greater control over their thoughts in hope of gaining greater control in their lives (from achieving better acuity through the day, through to better sleep in the evening). In short, this ‘greater control over one’s thoughts’ is about living in the present, and not allowing one’s thoughts to wonder off into the past or future (which can ultimately lead to distraction and stress).

Perhaps the most interesting expression of this, is conscious computing

The idea of managing one’s interactions with technology in a manner that is mindful to ensure that we don’t behave in ways of which the outcomes are at best unknown, and at worst, quite unhealthy.

There’s some fairly interesting stuff going on in this space at the moment. For instance, many people who have a Facebook app on their smartphone, would admit that despite being a useful application for connectivity, it can also be a distracting app as they often find themselves scrolling down their news feed and going on little mental excursions that send their thoughts in all types of directions at any given moment. I actually have a friend who recently downloaded a program that stops him from using the newsfeed feature on the Facebook  app!

I’ve seen an array of sessions at the SXSW Interactive Festival, and this notion of conscious computing has sprung into my mind on numerous occasions, namely during sessions such as The Future of Making, Wearable Computing: Now, Near and Next Generation and The Future of Networked Humans. As one would expect, sessions like these typically engender feelings of awe, wonderment and excitement amongst members of the audience, as for many, vast possibilities that were previously unknown enter the mind for the first time. Yet at the same time, it doesn’t seem as though a lot of the discussion is focusing on the potential personal and social perils of progressing at breakneck speed in this age of hyper innovation.

For instance, part of the discourse has tended to focus on how incredibly powerful networking our bodies will be. Not only will we be potentially able to compare our biometric data to the biometric data of professional athletes, but on a more serious note, the quality of healthcare, and thus life expectancies should substantially improve in the next 50 years. In fact, Joi Ito of MIT’s Media Lab, and Tim Brown of Ideo spoke of how we will be able to use technology to monitor our mood states and emotions in the not too distant future – which takes this to an even bigger level.

During these discussions, it has been rare for the audience to interrogate the grey

We may ask, what will happen to one’s mental wellness, when one is constantly checking their vitals and reminding themselves that they could in fact be performing better? What if you think you’re feeling happy, but your smartphone application tells you that you’re actually not? How will these technologies influence the way we humans experience ourselves and the world around us?

The answer, as one may expect, is quite unknown. What is certain though, is that we seem to be moving at such a rapid speed now, that our governments quite simply don’t appear to have the nimbleness required to research, regulate, and protect us from potentially harmful effects of the rapid technological innovation that is going on right now.

As such, and as the title of my piece suggests, it looks like the onus is going to be on brands to innovate in ways that consider the wellness of their consumers. But wait you may say … don’t we want to create an app that people just can’t put down? Don’t we want people to be completely immersed in our branded content for as many minutes as is humanly possible each day? Well, if conscious computing enters the mainstream, and all of a sudden your brand and product is exposed to be impacting people’s wellbeing in a negative fashion, well, there’s some food for thought.