Londoners check their phones 214 times a day

checking phoneA taxi driver laughed at me as I dodged traffic to run to his vehicle, pulling behind me a small suitcase with a laptop bag that was hanging off to one side, plus one phone in each hand. “Those things have created this non-stop society,” he declared. He is right.

We are always switched on, trying to do more in less time. It makes me laugh how the red light of a Blackberry or the ringtone from an iPhone makes people suddenly jump to action, obsessively responding to the latest message. People wait at the ready the moment a plane’s wheels touch down to sigh with relief as they are happily reconnected.

Head of Ariadne Capital Julie Meyer once said society operates at 2 speeds: start-up and history. I agree, but will we ever get control of it? One major UK consultancy has banned employees from sending internal email on a Friday, but we are caught in a circle of connectivity from which we cannot extricate ourselves.

At a key client meeting this week, the chair asked for a short break. Most people just dropped their heads into their devices and emailed the entire time. One person took out an old Nokia Lumia phone, which sent the group into raptures.

FT columnist Gillian Tett recently wrote, “The challenge of the cyber revolution is that the pace of change is so fast that few pundits have good answers about how institutions – let alone societies – can adapt.” She was referring to the changing face of employment, but it applies across the board. We all just run with it. Nobody knows how to manage it appropriately.

In the end, I had to ask the taxi driver for his advice. He looked so calm, despite having to make his living driving bumper to bumper in London’s traffic. “I just handle it day by day,” he said, “one action at a time”.

My Future

When asked “How will the future look?” I replied “Differently.” How different I am not entirely sure, but I can confidently say a few things.

  1. The future will include an increasing amount of measurement, ie. using data to crunch our business information. The more we know about our customers, the more we can target them with products they need and want. Why try and sell a lawn mower to a lady who lives on the 10th floor of an apartment block? A scatter-gun approach of marketing to thousands in the hope that five people buy is history. The future market segment is “One.” One person. One set of preferences.
  2. In future, customers will help set strategy arm-in-arm with CEOs. Technology allows us to be better listeners and social media especially is redefining the way business interacts with both customers and employees.
  3. The future is up to me. I will assemble my own degree from the thousands of excellent courses available, most of them free of charge. I will learn when I want, on the device I choose. I will learn on my iPhone on the train to work, on an iPad in the evening and on the laptop at the weekend. Each will know exactly where I left off and at which point to pick up.
  4. In future I will have more control. When I my car breaks down, I will access the ‘Parts’ section of my car’s website, download a new component, print it on my 3D printer, and fit it by watching and listening to instructions. In 60 minutes I am on the road.
  5. Almost everything in future will be connected. When I brush my teeth twice a day for two minutes, my toothbrush will know. I will be given recognition and offered an ‘m-voucher’ via my mobile for toothpaste the moment I walk into a supermarket – my reward is a free tube of toothpaste by a leading brand and a discount towards my next dental check due in 4 weeks.

People will not allow technology to watch us all day, every day, but these things are happening. It will be interesting to see how they play out.

Nowhere to hide

Technology is headlining so much of the evolution we are seeing in business, but for the consumer, digital has changed things even more drastically. Our phone is the passport to almost everything, yet even this device will disappear into our clothing and our cars as technologies such as Microsoft’s PixelSense come to the fore.

The phone is not just what keeps us in touch, it gives us the truth. Advertisers can no longer hide. Just a few years ago, the only way to differentiate between brands of television, sportswear or fast-moving consumer goods was to fall for the adverts coming at us from all angles (and I do like ‘Mad Men’). Today, you get the real views of millions of people and the opinions of those closest to you by turning to one of the social tools on your handheld. A recent survey said that 14% of customers trust advertisers, whereas 78% trust their peer reviews – which is why TripAdvisor,, Amazon and eBay are so powerful. The meaningful data that we can access at the touch of a button means a product whose message is overhyped can be exposed within moments and ridiculed to a joke in an afternoon in tweetland.

Computers are disappearing

We read stories of collaboration, social learning and communications evolving but how about the products that we use to facilitate these activities? They are fading into the background and before long, I can see (or not, as the case may be) a time when the device becomes invisible.

We saw the introduction of the infrared keyboard a year or so ago and I read forward-looking articles where the tables we dine in at restaurants will be embedded with the technology that allows you to order our bill, pay by credit card, send a take-away sample food box to a friend, all on the same interactive surface.

What else? I see phones disappearing into our clothing, communication devices that are integrated into the fabric of our coats and jackets, information beamed into our glasses and contact lenses, screens laid into walls and wallpaper which only come to the fore when they are needed.

The key is mobility, and reducing the weight of our bags and satchels as we race across our cities to the next meeting. Why carry laptop computers when we can access pop-up screens in cafes, beam the keyboard onto the coffee table and a holographic screen in front of us.

Before long, we will be online using the interior of our car windscreens (only when the engine is switched off) or via shopping mall display points, where combined with near-field communications (NFC) we will have the ability to search for a specific item of clothing, book a restaurant for lunch, a taxi to get home after a movie, and much more. The technology will be embedded into our every day existence, and there will be no need for separate devices.

The real beauty for me is how this facilitates learning – where we don’t have to go off for days at a time to understand an entire subject area if we only truly need a short 20-minute piece to help us with the task at hand. The technology will help up digest smaller, bite-sized chunks of learning, specific to a role or customer requirement – one tiny piece at a time, wherever we happen to be.

Top 3 in Technology

The Consumer Electronics Show is the annual gadget-fest held in Las Vegas and it is taking place right now. I thought it apt to share what I believe to be the 3 key technology trends of the year. Admittedly, I could elaborate on each of these for a blog post of their own, and some may well evolve into something different, but my top 3 are the technology-related trends I believe will end up impacting our day to day lives, regardless of our industry:

1. MOBILE will be far bigger than we think.  Mobile internet devices (especially smartphones) outsell all computing devices and certainly PCs, and mobility will continue to change the dynamic of how we operate. By being better connected, it means we don’t have to be in one place, and this will influence remote working, a different type of communication and the restructuring of the traiditional office setup.

2.  This leads nicely to NFC, or NEAR-FIELD COMMUNICATION.  NFC is a short-range wireless technology that makes use of interacting electromagnetic radio fields instead of the typical direct radio transmissions used by technologies such as Bluetooth. It is meant for applications where a physical touch, or close to it, is required. NFC is planned for use in mobile phones for, among other things, payment, in conjunction with an electronic wallet. Mobile payments will cause a rethink of cash, travel and shopping. For those of us in the UK, think of an Oyster card embedded within your phone.

3. The CROWD. Sites such as Airbnb and CouchSurfing are leading the way in peer-to-peer networks, and as Rachel Botsman said in my favourite book of last year “What’s Mine is YOurs“, creative companies are using technology to redefine ownership. Why buy when we can rent, borrow and share amongst our community. Experience is far more important than ownership; for example, we don’t necessarily want to collect DVDs, we just want the experience of watching the movie, and usually, just the once. Cars is another area that will be seriously affected, with companies such as Whipcar and Zipcar helping reduce car ownership around the world. Technology is facilitating this change.

They are my top three, and no doubt many other trends will spin-off from these. Keep an eye out for news from CES and articles in all the newspapers and websites, all the main gadgets and trends will be featured there.

Phones & Automobiles

The iPhone is not just leading the way in design, but could well revolutionise shopping. Using near-field communication (NFC – short-range wireless between a chip and reader) the device could easily act as a payment system, allowing you to swipe your phone to pay bills or groceries (this happens in Japan today) or work in combination with an app to use it as the key to your car. Thanks to my friend Ian Green from Liverpool Community College, the Sunday Times and to Simon’s blog for the pieces of information that now form a mini-story (beyond just this post) – technology and collaboration at its  best.

The Intelligence of Things

The annual gadget extravaganza is under way in Las Vegas and thousands are there to digest the announcements. I read, and like, the term “intelligence of things” from the event, and manufacturers are upgrading their products with technologies such as GPS, internet and bluetooth to inject connectivity and new life into them.  “Everything connected” appears to be the trend and connectivity will spread beyond computer-related devices to everyday products such as meat thermometers and toasters. Hardware will be worthless without the app.

2010 closing thoughts

Here are my three closing thoughts for 2010:

1. As we transition to the cloud, I am seeing an increase in the US of sites that cater to borrowing, such as NeighborGoods, ShareSomeSugar and SnapGoods. Will we move away from ownership and borrow everything? Quite possibly – and if we no longer collect books, music and movies, it will also free up shelf space too.

2. Social media was headline news all year. Will this evolve into Social TV, with billions of TVs connected to the internet and allow you to run live commentaries with your acquaintances? Will we ever be left alone again? We need to get used to a life where others are looking in.

3. Finally, and most importantly, research at Princeton University discovered that £47,000 is the level of income beyond which there is no improvement in emotional well-being. How interesting. Could this figure be the perfect balance between challenge, satisfaction and a stress-free day?

Whatever does or doesn’t materialise, we must get accustomed to change. It is taking place whether we like it or not. Personally, I enjoy it.

Connecting Points

How many connectors/sneezers/influencers know about your product? These individuals act as hubs in successful networks and get the word out faster than any means. You are much wiser being connected to a handful of these people that hundreds of random individuals. Also, conventional hierarchies may begin to change and companies led or guided by these freelance influencers. Who can you “employ?”

King of the Techno-Jungle

I read that Tarzan is being relaunched as an eco-warrior and his companion Jane will be on Facebook and possess an iPod and mobile.  Has the world gone completely mad? Are you trying to destroy the abiding memories of my youth? There is only one Tarzan and his name is Johnny Weissmuller. Who will Tarzan talk to in the jungle by mobile phone? Some things are best left as they are.