We never stopped living in the real world but the digital revolution triggered a reality-quake that shook up our perceptions of what real is; what a real friend is, what a real emotion or experience is, what things are really worth. If someone had told you even ten years ago that millions of people would pay real money for virtual goods you would have questioned their sanity. Yet there is now a thriving economy around just such ephemeral and infinitely copyable data objects. So real is this economy that prisoners in Chinese jails are made to mine coded seams of gold day and night to sell to time-poor role-players.
This example is vivid evidence of the digital world folding back into the real in a very unfortunate way, it was only an illusion that we could live unrestricted and joyful lives online without any consequences. But we carry on, we are resilient and we remember eventually what makes us human, the need to ‘only connect’. In the end we yearn for and need to return to the real, to touch a warm face and not just a cold glowing rectangle.
From Social graph to Spatial graph
At Fjord we believe that two dominant trends will take root in 2012. First the social graph will become the spatial graph*. When social networks first appeared they were quite logically intended as a service to reinforce real relationships online. But making friends was so easy through the denatured and odourless connections of the social web that quickly we all made huge numbers of pseudo friends with whom we shared intimate and meaningless information.
What these friendships lack is time and space in the real world. Digital should enhance our real relationships, make connecting easier and helping us to love. Mobile services will drive this change as they are with us when we are out, seeing, hearing, smelling and touching the world. Services such as Path and Foursquare Radar enable this and will become the ‘Spatial Kings’ as we use them to truly find each other. The device and the screen become a token and a clue for the real experience not a substitute.
Breaking through the glass
Screen is an interesting word, it simultaneously means an object we look at and something that we hide behind. Even the small hand sized device becomes a barrier in social situations, absorbing our gaze and taking us away elsewhere. A second more radical trend will take this to an inevitable conclusion, breaking through the glass. Siri, Tellme, Google voice, Kinect, Nokia Drive all lead towards “Zero UI” where our gestures voice and glances can all trigger interaction with systems that respond to us through our environment. Advanced context-aware automation will take us to the brink of a truly connected world where sensors and embedded intelligence help us glide through space, subtly enhancing us and adding layers of information to the world. Humans are analogue** our digital tools should only be an aid to the real they should not replace it.
Original article written for TicBeat in Spain, read the Spanish article here.
* Concept of Spatial Graph from Luis Uguina of BBVA
** Quote from Hartmut Esslinger of Frog, but according to Freeman Dyson this hasn’t been scientifically proven yet.