So we had a bit of a whip round in the Digit studio for New Year’s Techolutions and some interesting themes arose in the responses. It seems that the traditional aspirations towards weight loss and self-improvement map onto our digital lives. On the whole, people are resolving to use technology to learn more, develop their passions and reduce the noise in their lives. Many people expressed a desire to learn new skills like coding and photoshop. While others hoped to read better blogs, follow better people on Twitter and attend more events and talks in the quest to broaden their horizons.
Conversely, several people planned to dramatically reduce distractions and time wasters – leaving Facebook, avoiding addictive iPhone games and not checking emails as much on weekends.
Most interestingly were a few “new entrant” resolutions that represent a direct response to recent events and perhaps could not have been predicted a few years – or even six months – ago. 3D printing and phasing out Apple were put forward, and who would have listed “using Flickr more” before Instagram-gate?
However, it seems that no matter how fast or how far we progress, or how excited we are for the future, fearing the loss of the past is our greatest concern. The most cited Techolution? Back up, back up, back up!
ps. Best resolution goes to Dan Green, who hopes to find a way to bring digital interactivity to his upcoming wedding. No disposable cameras on tables for our Dan!
“I want to have a feeling; I need to send a tweet”. Well, when you put it that way (and the panellists at last week’s Future Laboratory event on digital addiction did) then the Internet really does start to seem like a scary place where weird things happen to our brains. While it’s one thing to watch a toddler try to “swipe” onto a new TV channel, just like they’re accustomed to on their parents’ iPhones. Or even lose your keys and instinctively think of texting them to see where they are. These are purely practical changes that are the result of new problem-solving methods given to us by technology. It seems like another thing entirely to look to the Internet for emotional sustenance.
Digit has had a summer of great interns. We recently hosted English graduate, Harry Wilson for two weeks. These are his thoughts on his experience at our studio. All the best to you, Harry. — NM
Thanks to these couple of weeks with Digit, I’ve finally begun my preparation for the first leap in my career. Some of the things I have heard in meetings and spoken with people about one-to-one have invited me to begin forming some views, or at least musings, about technology and the marketing communications industry in general.
Firstly, I wasn’t quite aware of the issue of boundaries within the world of marketing communications, at least in contrast to the idea of interdisciplinary knowledge and the need for a holistic service. To what extent should people still be going to separate agencies for branding and identity, design, technology, and advertising? What are the boundaries between people’s different job roles within a team or between departments? How far might a strategist contribute to something traditionally tasked to creatives? It’s my belief that Digit has offered the beginnings of a few solutions. For a start, the openness of their brainstorm sessions allow a kind of space in which people’s departments can be temporarily transcended, before they return to their subsequent roles. The size and intimacy of the company serve to increase this effect, as a group will usually consist of only one or sometimes two people from each department. In this sense, I hope that Digit never grows in size. I hope instead that it simply duplicates itself.
More significantly, Digit has completely changed my attitude towards technology. I never quite understood just how much they put into practice their emphasis on placing the user first until I witnessed the actual process behind their approach to technology. By insisting upon the mutuality of experience and identity, Digit challenges the issue of boundaries (why separate branding and technology?) and offers their clients not just effect, but seamless affect. Just as computers used to be considered cold, functional robots, we in turn became scared by scientific theories that we too were hardware bodies, programmed by the software of the brain, and controlled by genetic chips. Neuroscientists now argue that we are not ‘wired up’; we are not completely determined by our genes, so why does so much technology remain detached and rigid? We experience life in an enactive way, and our brains physically alter in reaction to our surroundings. Just so, technological experiences, as extensions of reality, should be truly interactive.
Overall, I cannot believe how readily I was incorporated into the Digit daily life, and how seriously I was taken. I follow a rather long line of visitors to Digit this summer and, as my father often reminds me, ‘these work experience kids’ are more of a burden than a help. However, at Digit I was made to feel genuinely useful and so many staff members made the effort to contribute to my education. Such kindness evidently comes naturally to the Digit community. My time here has taught me far more than I have space to mention, and I have met some genuinely inspiring characters. I hope I can keep in touch.
Oh, and P.S: on my last day, they sent me on a little errand. To Rotterdam. How about that for work experience?
That’s a pretty big trunk on my Lincoln town car, ain’t it? starts the tenth song on an album that made its way into my life while I was writing my Masters thesis. I was living in a town people often describe as objectively beautiful, but in the depths of turning very complicated thoughts into 30 000 words I saw only shadows. I’d come across Swim Good on a mixtape a friend made to usher in the Spring, and although I’d later learn that there are plenty of songs on Nostalgia, Ultra worthy of praise, I couldn’t pull myself away from that song’s sophisticated, radical songwriting. It was the black suit, Ocean impeccably dressed for his own burial, the determined driving, the confident threat at the beginning of each chorus. Like many, I was bewitched into thinking that the (then) 23 year-old had been sent from New Orleans to save R&B.
July, 2012 is barely two weeks old and Frank Ocean has revealed that his first love was a man who didn’t love him back the way he’d wanted him to, and his studio debut, Channel ORANGE is enjoying a thunderous standing ovation (see this, that, this, that and that). But that was expected. Thinking Bout You, Pyramids and Sweet Life were hints that his talent is nothing short of explosive. As Julianne Escobedo Shepherd wrote upon hearing the album and later writing about Ocean’s coming out, ‘ I kept wondering if I was feeling the same way people felt the first time they heard Purple Rain or Hot Buttered Soul.‘ In Channel ORANGE, Ocean is not afraid to fly — the brilliant Super Rich Kids is sparse and strategic, lifting the listener with each chord change. Another diamond, Lost came on as I was leaving Liverpool Street station on my way to work this morning, and made me stop dead somewhere between a group of teenagers handing out breakfast bars and the crowd waiting for the 149 bus. Uptempo meets self-destruction, yet I still wanted to know the extent to which a character in a song can ruin her own life. There are several moments (Sierra Leone! Forrest Gump!) that made my stomach somersault, the way Stevie always has. And I’m not alone, I hear, in being so moved by Ocean’s skills I had to take a moment. And then there’s Pyramids. The song stands defiantly alone — earth shattering production, lyrical games so layered they vibrate, and a short story critics will be dissecting for years to come. I am aligned with Escobedo Shepard’s instinct that Channel ORANGE is an unmistakable milestone.
In addition to being a member of Odd Future, Frank Ocean is in demand, with international superstars singing his praises and his songs. And coming out on the brink of an elegant debut has turned every spotlight on the young musician. He is OFWGKTA’s second Out member, and his ability to fit in a group often criticised for their homophobic lyrics has no doubt been brought up. However, 2011′s We All Try is perhaps evidence that there are complexities between friends, bandmates and their work that the public is not always privy to. As a (*huge) fan, reading his declaration that he is now a ‘free man’ made me happy to know that the young people who will grow up on his music can now appreciate his contributions in new ways. It also made me think of Songs for Women, a song that still makes me wonder who I dentify with more: the girl who offers to park her car and ride the bus with the dude, or the guy with the amazing vinyl collection. That comes as no surprise though, because that sort of self-reflection is Textbook Frank Ocean.
Channel Orange is out in stores on July 17th, and currently available on iTunes.
The Futures Company‘s Andrew Curry opened his Technology 2020 briefing this morning with Jurassic Park, John Major at the proverbial podium, and Whitney Houston circa The Bodyguard. Three artifacts from 1993, the year telecommunications company, AT&T released the advertisement below as part of their You Will campaign. As you may notice the advertisement was alarmingly correct in some ways, and off the mark in others. Nostalgia: when did our vision of the future become too gadget-driven to dream about the larger picture? I remember 1993. Ace of Base saw The Sign, Lisa Bonet and Lenny Kravitz parted ways, I had short, fat braids and very bony knees. The Future was an enticing blur. What happened?
The same thing that always happens. The Future came and went, and we continued to shape our tools so that they may in turn shape us. There’s a tendency to believe that we’re living in a unique innovation age, and that’s certainly the case temporally, but people have held that very belief at every stage throughout (Her)story. Curry argued that we are witnessing the beginning of a plateau in the Deployment Period of our current tech development phase, despite having built up equal parts anxiety and euphoria over an assumed acceleration in innovation. Indeed, we can complete tasks on our mobile phones that come straight of the Future described in the AT&T ad, but technology has always enabled new, marvelous changes. Curry encouraged us to avoid causal narratives, and to think about nuances rather than stock assumptions. Nuances reveal the rich, tech-enabled social changes we see around us. These were his thoughts on how to navigate the dominant paradigm:
1. Technology is expanding at a faster pace than ever before: An increase in uptake adds to the feeling of fast paced technological innovation. However, Curry suggested that we may be at the end of an innovation cycle, or at least very well into the second half of a surge (to use Perez’s language). Our tools and their capabilities may be expanding, but not necessarily at a faster pace than ever before.
2. We can’t predict future technologies: Yes, we sort of can. We know that data, devices, screens and sensors (DDSS) will impact all areas of life over the next decade. We can therefore think about change as a subway map with a few concrete stops and a handful of stations that may disappear over time. This makes giving directions challenging, but at least we have a map. DDSS is certain, and we have more predictive power than we think.
3. Mobile is the next Big Thing: True, but not quite true yet. We’re moving towards more sophisticated mobile technology, which will take flight after 2016. The biggest change will be the adoption of 4G networks which will offer faster transfer speeds, more robust service, more security, and better multimedia support. Mobile is a Big Thing, but it is poised to evolve.
4. Millennials use technology in fundamentally different ways than other generations: Curry identified four Millennial segments, challenging the notion that there is a single identity and set of values for young people all over the world. Indeed, Millennials use technology in different ways than other generational cohorts do, but usage across the globe is varied. Curry went on to show a map showing the dispersion of Millennial segments (as identified by The Futures Company’s Global Monitor), which sadly skipped over Africa, my home and region of interest. However, his argument for segmentation was intriguing.
5. ‘Always on’ is the future: Always on with the ability to switch off easily and unevenly is more like it. Layered access is the future — we may want to switch off entirely, or remain open to different groups and individuals at different times. We therefore have to think more critically about designing for users who wish to switch between modes at will.
Curry’s ‘layered access’ proposition resonated with me more than any other. In fact, I think the promise of a Future that supports the right to limit our exposure to communication technologies in particular has a nostalgic glow — like the promise of resurrecting dinosaurs.
See more Futures Company Future Perspectives here.
Technology has had a profound effect on how we create, experience and promote The Arts. In addition to allowing us to break social barriers, it has also brought us closer to a democratic curatorship by extending the art gallery, theatre and cinema to new spaces. However, the enthusiasm surrounding the role emerging technologies can and will play in the art world is not shared by all. Alongside the excitement lies a fear that technology can, in fact, devalue the creative process. We’ve been exploring some of these themes for some time at Digit, and we’re pleased to announce our partnership with the Guardian Professionals Network which will focus on exploring technology and the future of the Arts through events, research and collaborative creative projects.
The Guardian and Digit share a belief that technology should be considered as important in creative spaces as it is in other areas of our world. Technology allows us to reflect and reinterpret social phenomena on a larger scale than at any other point in history. It therefore could not be more relevant for the future of The Arts. As a design company with technology at our core, Digit has a rich heritage of producing client work and in-house R&D that marries design and technology. Many of us identify as artists ourselves, inclined towards digital mediums. With our eye on trends in business, technology and art, we see ourselves as a pivotal link between our clients, thought leaders, institutions and creators. We would love to explore new ways to grow our influence and develop meaningful relationships through this partnership with The Guardian.
We will be hosting one of our breakfast events in July to kick off the partnership, and would love to hear from readers who wish to attend. Please email Digit (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
We recently hosted another breakfast discussion at Digit, this time on the topic of motivation. We wanted to discuss how technological innovation is opening up new ways to create positive behaviour change, and also to ask the question, is it working? We were joined by a gaming expert, a trends consultant, and various marketers representing organisations from start ups to a global bank.
The Technology of Motivation is about facilitating behaviour change not just spreading messages. Be it through data, design, feedback or incentive, the ideas we discussed all used technology to help people reach goals or increase productivity without making an assumption that they would or could do it on their own.
We discussed the reasons City Peaks had been a success at Digit and benchmarked it against other things we’d spotted to understand what people were getting right and wrong. This sparked a healthy debate, but we nevertheless did manage to come to some conclusions!
1. Everyone is motivated differently Fuel band is a smart idea for the Nike brand. It’s fitting of the competitive way their customers use their products, and the way it collects and feedbacks data is incredibly sophisticated. But for some people sport has more to do with escapism than anything else, and feedback, no matter how personal, may not be what motivates them. We discussed the way clever game design can make one product appeal to a variety of mindsets, and how we tried to make this work for City Peaks.
2. There’s more than one way to incentivise
There is a big difference between extrinsic and intrinsic incentives. Gympact is a clever idea that forces you to use your gym membership but it also fuels a certain attitude towards fitness – one where it’s considered a chore not a pleasure. It may change your behaviour in the short term, but does it change your attitude for the better? One of the things we discussed is how technology can make data more personal and directional in a way that can change perception around an issue, like these visualisations of cardiology reports.
3. Knowledge is power
Learning can be the most empowering tool of them all. We talked about NoiseTube, a tool for collecting noise pollution data. On the one hand it’s a research tool, but on the other it’s an initiative that motivates a large group of people to act on a issue they didn’t previously understand, simply by letting them create and access data around it.
4. Peer pressure works
Social pressures govern a lot of the decisions we make, so using technology to fuel this further is helpful. Stikk is a personal incentive platform that allows you to designate a referee to watch over your progress.
5. Don’t make it any harder than it already is
Perhaps the single biggest reason there is a trend around technology that motivates, is the strength of the opportunity we have at our fingertips to quantify, track and monitor our own lives. Simply using current systems cleverly can open up vast scores of data that could have many uses. But programmes that create ongoing barriers to entry, like My Fitness Pal (a massive database of calorie content of high street food items but requires manual entry) may expect to see drop-off rates that could be avoided using mobile technology.
There was loads more discussed that we’ll be feeding in to our thinking and R&D streams in the future, so thanks to everyone who came along and helped us host a productive session.
Last week, thanks to the good graces of one of my greatest friends (really, she’s more like a blonde sister) I attended Ted Salon at the Unicorn Theatre near London Bridge for Unseen Narratives, a TED storytelling event. I came ready with my own printed copy of the program, which opens with the following proposition: ’our bodies are made of atoms, but our lives are made of stories.’ Kristina and I are both shy writers. While each of us (and I speak for her here because we’re sort of kind of related) would claim to be writers by instinct, we’d equally admit that pressures exist which often make it difficult to tap into our own styles and write something. Anything. It’s appropriate, then, that she would encourage me to put on a decent dress, join the TED community for a night, and hear stories that might inspire me to write. If I could, I’d tell her to do the very same thing: listen up and put it on paper.
As you may expect, it was a night of inspiring stories, some of which spoke to the very things I treasure most. Filmmaker and co-founder of Film Club, Beeban Kidron described how film transforms young people, acting as a dynamic catalyst for confidence and reflection. Film is an underdog in education, because educators and parents — perhaps rightfully, due to a lack of positive case studies — often doubt its ability to teach. Film club disputes this assumption; youth who participate emerge with new critical thinking skills, a passion for the medium, and a level of engagement only film can draw from audeinces. She also spoke of the important role Vittorio de Sica’s Miracle in Milan has played in her life, having attended a screening of the film on her father’s birthday as a child. There were a few moments during her talk where I projected my own experiences onto her story, as if they were speaking to each other, with film at the core. I often joke that I was raised by movies, and spent my childhood dreaming of being an actress. I studied film history in college, and the work of the Italian neo-realists, de Sica in particular, moved me more than any other period, perhaps because we can still see their influence in film today. Is there anything better than a broody, Italian-cinematic take on social promises that never come to fruition? I would count de Sica’s Umberto D. and Spike Lee’s Crooklyn as two films that changed my life. They beautifully address ordinary human journeys set against challenging and unequal social contexts. Umberto is denied the opprtunity to grow old in the way we would want our grandparents to, and the ‘magic of childhood’ is also a dark cloud for Troy. Truly, I have never loved two characters like I do Umberto and Troy. Benjamin Braddock is a close third.
Tracy Chevalier spoke about why entering an art gallery should be like eating a meal at a restaurant (go with your gut and spend time with a few pieces), and Andy Puddicombe, a former monk and current meditation teacher, alerted us to the power of doing nothing. Amanda Renshaw took us through the challenge of building the World’s Greatest Art Museum, the most crucial hurdle being where to start and end when curating the largest ever collection of art. The evening ended with Pam Warhurst, one of the founders of Incredible Edible, an action-based programme that has helped turn the northern English town of Todmorden into an edible landscape and newly-empowered community. From transformed parks and gardens to urban agriculture education in schools, Todmorden is an example of living, breathing shared responsibility and, in Pam’s own words, the ‘power of small actions.’ Pam got a standing ovation from the crown and a watery-eyed response from me because her extraordinary story, like all the speakers’ stories that night, is ongoing. Her sincere delivery and reassurance that strategy documents do far less than people organised around a shared goal echoed the aims of the aims of the evening, as stated by TED and frog design: to remind us that ‘stories help us relate to others.’ I can’t wait to visit Todmorden. And to write about it.
I’ve developed a reputation as somewhat of an irrational Beyoncé fan here at Digit. Perhaps because I have a knack for connecting my work as a Strategist to the bronzer-and-stiletto halo (pun intended) that surrounds the Beyoncé brand. For instance, I recently argued that the parameters of what we’ve come to know as ‘All-American’ now include the likes of Knowles herself. A departure from the white, middle class norm of old, but not entirely inclusive (more on that after a pint). To add hairspray to the way I might come across, I’d add that there are definite learnings Gen Y feminists and self-esteem slashing brands alike can glean from how women in particular consume and interpret Beyoncé. Take this: when asked for his thoughts on the Beyoncé Effect, my fellow Strategist, Tom Barnes answered, ‘yeah, girls love her. If she walked into the room I’d be intimidated.’ Always on the money, Tom alerted me to something I hadn’t thought about enough: there is real ideological and consumer power in my fandom (*insert Pinterest). Of course, the sentiment is not universal among women, but one thing is for sure — something Beyoncé-related is blogged, tweeted, ‘liked’ and disliked online, from a mobile, tablet or computer, somewhere in the world every minute of the day.
What Beyoncé and her team teach us — and what they can teach brands — is that acting tactfully upfront protects you from external distortions of your narrative. ‘Privacy’ has to be very well managed, and social media can enable that. It is not an inherent threat. Tumblr was the perfect platform for Beyoncé: fans can view content, reblog it, export it to other networks, and comment until glitter and YSL bodysuits pour from the sky. They can own the content, and each image is continuously reproduced and reused. Why go anywhere else to see intimate pictures of Beyoncé when the most reliable and engaging source is the singer herself? Sounds simple, but it’s not common. Arguably, only a star of that stature can create Beyoncé Digital. But that’s a question of scale rather than strategic tact, something this brand seems to have in leaps and bounds.
The internet is aglow with praise and analysis. For how long? Who knows. But right now, Beyoncé Knowles, who has tweeted only once, is the queen of social media.
*PS: all pictures = courtesy of Beyoncé. For more on tumblrs that matter see, well, Solange.
‘Hack, break, mash up, build. Sometimes failing, ALWAYS learning’ writes our CTO, Derrick Holmes about Digit’s tech blog, Little Machines.
Little Machines features raw posts written in the interest of investigating emerging technologies, and in Derrick’s own words, it documents the front line of Creative Technology. ‘It’s a door into the mind of or deepest, darkest geeky interests, and an insight into digit’s R&D projects as they are born.’ LM was asleep for a while, but our tech team recently resurected the blog as we’ve started to devote more time to R&D, an important part of Digit’s DNA.
Firstly, big big big shouts to everyone who made Resonate awesome. Two days of mashing Art and Culture with Technology featuring some of the greatest artists, coders, designers and musicians around […]