March 13, 2013

Q&A on ‘Embracing Analog: Why Physical Is Hot’

Posted by: in North America

Paul Woolmington
Frank Rose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Monday, I spoke on a SXSW Interactive panel, “Embracing Analog: Why Physical Is Hot,” along with Frank Rose, author of The Art of Immersion and correspondent for Wired, and marketing authority Paul Woolmington, co-founder of communications management consultancy Naked Communications Americas. The panel spotlighted our findings from a survey, designed in partnership with Rose, that explored the rising embrace of analog among consumers in the U.S. and the U.K. (Find the results in our new trend report on this topic.) As a complement to the panel and our report, we asked Rose and Woolmington for their insights into what’s driving this phenomenon, why it’s especially prevalent among Millennials and what it means for marketers.

To start, can you speak to why people are embracing analog as we spend ever more time in the digital world?

FR: Value is a function of scarcity—that’s why diamonds are expensive and glass is not—so the more time we spend looking at screens, the more rare and exotic the real world begins to seem. Plus, I think we’re seeing the evolution of engagement away from being primarily digital. Digital media allow for—and in many cases demand—active participation, so they provoke an entirely different sort of engagement from movies and TV. But now it’s beginning to seem that the future of immersive entertainment will be driven by a blending of old and new, of physical and digital. It’s almost as if the expectations of active engagement we bring to digital are spilling over into our experience of the real world.

But maybe I’m over-intellectualizing. The simple fact is, we’re physical creatures. We’re hardwired to respond to cues in the physical environment. That’s not going to change—unless Ray Kurzweil is right and we all get swept up into the singularity and trade our brains for silicon. Which could happen, but I sort of doubt it.

PW: We’re also emotional creatures. But as life becomes more hyper-connected and convenient, our worlds are being tilted toward the rational IQ sides of our brains. This leaves an increasing gap in the emotional EQ side, which leads us to yearn for and seek out analog objects and physical experiences.

We are at an important inflection point in our old/new digital society. The speed of change just keeps accelerating, and we haven’t yet fully understood the anxiety that results. We’ve gone from a digitally connected (old) world to a hyper-connected (new) world in a short few years and haven’t had time to fully adapt. We’ve been too busy learning and embracing the new to fully realize the repercussions. The opportunity at this inflection is to understand how citizens and society can not just do things more cheaply, easily and quickly but also emotionally connect in more meaningful and immersive ways across the digital-analog divide.Our survey found that people cite rational reasons—ease, speed, convenience and cost—for why they prefer to buy music, read news and do other things online. But they cite emotional reasons—better experience and comfort—when asked why they do things in the physical world. Can you explain this dichotomy?

FR: I think it has to do with our hardwiring. There’s no question that digital is more convenient—the amount of information I have at my fingertips today compared to 20 years ago is staggering. But emotion and efficiency are not the same thing at all.

PW: I agree. Digital doesn’t address our emotional needs. Digital meets our more rational needs—it’s faster and easier and lets us keep more control—but as human beings we need our emotional beings satisfied, and obviously that need isn’t being met by our digital experiences. Therefore, in order to balance that, we’re seeking the analog more than ever. We’re looking for more meaningful emotional experiences and connections. We’re seeking to rebalance our IQ and EQ states.

Abraham Maslow’s work on the hierarchy of needs, which parallels many other theories of developmental psychology, illustrates this dichotomy well. The four fundamental states, which Maslow called “deficiency needs,” are esteem, friendship and love, security and physical needs. If these needs aren’t met, then as humans we will feel anxious and tense. The human mind is complex and handles parallel processes at the same time, so the need to balance the rational with the emotional is at the heart of this. It explains why an “emotional void” in the digital world makes humans, even the most digitally hard-core, seek out analog experiences.

Can you speak to the role nostalgia plays?

PW: It’s fascinating that Millennials are the most nostalgic of all the groups researched, and perhaps counterintuitive. The research showed that 62 percent read e-books digitally but 78 percent yearn for the smell and feel of paper books. We’re hardwired for physical and emotional connection and meaning, so the more we are removed from them, the more we wish for them.

Nostalgia is a consequence of the loss of emotional connections and the anxiety that produces. In our new digitally driven world, which is moving at an ever faster pace, nostalgia takes on a deeper context: the sentimental yearning for things past that felt safe and secure and represent happier, less complex times.

FR: Nostalgia is always a powerful force, but in this case I think it has to do with the feeling that we’re standing at a threshold, about to enter some new form of existence. Just think about the words we use. For all that we spent decades watching ever more TV, nobody ever talked about TV being somehow different from “the real world.” But as we spend more and more of our time in virtual environments—which are still evolving and increasingly immersive—it’s only natural to want to have something to grab onto. And if you’re going to grab onto something, it had better be tangible.

We found that 59 percent of our respondents agreed that imperfections like scratches and scuffs give objects personality, especially Millennials (67 percent) and Gen Xers (60 percent). Why is this?

PW: Clearly, imperfections are an antidote to the sanitized, efficient and functional world of digital and technological perfection. The more we conform around digital products and services, the more likely we are to want to assert our individuality and character. That leads us to seek the authentic raw state.

The digital world strives for perfection. Look no further than Apple and its brethren. Imagine an Apple fragrance: It would be the scent of technology mixed with sleek aluminum, perfectly formed glass, light wood surfaces and no imperfections or patina.

In such a world, humans will increasingly crave authentic and nostalgic references and experiences as a counterbalance.

The greatest science fiction writers depict futuristic worlds that are enhanced by technology but have dystopian, anxious, emotionally void societies. These fictional worlds are inhabited by people yearning to fill their emotional voids with nostalgia and analog physical experiences. Prescient?

FR: Well, authenticity has been an issue for some time now. Holden Caulfield was railing against phonies back in the ’50s. Again, it’s a case of something being more and more valued as it grows scarce. Only now the whole question has gone into overdrive. I realized we had entered another stage when I was reading a book called Authenticity a few years back. It was fascinating from a marketing perspective, but when I got to the part where the authors drew a distinction between “real fake” and “fake real,” I figured it was all over.

Digital complicates things because it enables you to make an endless number of perfect copies. It used to be that even fake stuff could acquire a patina over time. But bits don’t degrade; only atoms do. So nothing acquires a patina unless it’s been rendered a physical form. Never mind what’s fake and what’s real: How can you even tell what’s old and what’s new? Again, it’s a case of needing to be grounded in some physical reality.

One of our most interesting findings is that the more one tends to do online, the greater one’s affinity for the physical and tactile, especially among Millennials and early adopters. Why is this?

FR: It is interesting, but when you think about it, it really makes sense. Millennials are more attuned to things digital than any other adults. And as alluring as the digital world may be, we’re all beginning to realize its limits. Millennials are in a better position to do so than anyone. If you’re looking at digital from the outside, as way too many older people still are, all you see is that everything looks wrong—but it only looks wrong because you’re looking at it through the lens of the past. When you’ve embraced it on its own terms, you’re in a position to criticize it much more intelligently.

Any interesting examples you’ve seen of people embracing analog?

PW: There are so many: old-school craft skills, hobbies, homemade goods, Etsy, home cooking, the farm-to-table trend, cooperatives, meet-ups. Airbnb, Uber, Warby Parker and Mealku are great examples of disruptive business models with digital-analog integration and both rational and emotional appeal.

FR: It’s pretty much everywhere: Etsy, the maker movement, the rise of artisanal everything—atoms are on the march.

How can marketers leverage this trend?

PW: Avoid the “emotional void” in your digital communications, marketing, products and services. To better serve consumers and create more powerful immersive relationships, marketers need to address the relationship between the rational and emotional states (IQ and EQ) across digital and analog platforms, channels and experiences.

The opportunity for marketers is to understand how citizens and society can not just do things more cheaply, easily and quickly but also connect emotionally in deeper ways across the digital-analog divide.

FR: The important thing is this: People are no more going to abandon digital than they’re going to abandon electricity. But even though we all have electricity, we still like to dine by candlelight. No one reads by candlelight anymore, because it’s too inefficient. But dining by candlelight is romantic, it sets a nice mood. So candles may be obsolete, but that doesn’t mean they’re going away. If you keep in mind that digital is for efficiency and convenience, and physical is for feelings of substance and emotional connectedness—for feelings generally—you can’t go too far wrong.

No Responses to "Q&A on ‘Embracing Analog: Why Physical Is Hot’"

Comment Form

SIGN UP FOR OUR WEEKLY EMAIL NEWSLETTER:

New Trend Report: The Future of Payments & Currency

2014 iPad App

JWT AnxietyIndex

Things to Watch

  • Money & messaging apps
    October 23, 2014 | 11:13 am

    LINE_icon02

    Given the primary function of mobile messaging apps and their technical capabilities, money transfer and payments are an alluring proposition, as outlined in our new report on payments and currency. Snapchat filed two trademarks in July that indicate a potential move into peer-to-peer payments. The recently announced Line Pay will let Line users make purchases through their Line accounts, send funds to each other, and split costs using a “Dutch Pay” feature. Line Pay will launch in Japan and, as Tech in Asia reports, serve as “an entrance to new industries” thanks to integration with the new Line Taxi service and Line Wow, for food delivery. In South Korea, KakaoTalk launched the PayPal-like Kakao Pay in September, and a remittance service, Bank Wallet Kakao, is in the works. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Line

  • The #TimsDark Experiment
    October 14, 2014 | 3:46 pm

    To entice customers into tasting its new dark roast, Canadian fast food chain Tim Hortons, with the help of JWT Canada, created a surprise immersive experience. A store in Quebec was wrapped in material that blocked all light from the outdoors. Patrons entered warily and, once inside, heard a staff member (who was wearing night vision goggles) guiding them through the dark. At the counter, customers were handed a cup of the dark roast—the brand’s first new blend in 50 years—with the darkness heightening their sense of taste. When the lights came on, the patrons saw they were on camera.

    The #TimsDark Experiment has garnered YouTube views and some press attention, and shows how creatively imagined immersive experiences—one of our 10 Trends for 2014—can encourage consumers to engage with a brand.

  • Bitcoin bank Circle
    October 7, 2014 | 4:40 pm

    Circle

    In late September, the startup Circle launched a web app that effectively functions as a bitcoin bank. Using a debit card or bank account, users transfer funds to Circle, which converts the money to bitcoin at no fee. Circle also insures this money at no cost. The company aims to make bitcoin more accessible via consumer-friendly design and is aiming to take on traditional banks and companies like PayPal, as The Guardian reports. Next up: Android and iOS Circle apps.

    Circle co-founder Jeremy Allaire gave a keynote at the Inside Bitcoins conference in April, citing the need for a “killer app” to bring bitcoin into the mainstream. Now Circle seems to be taking the lead, and others are sure to follow. —Nick Ayala

    Image credit: Circle

  • High-tech tasting
    October 2, 2014 | 6:00 pm

    Nanosensor

    Thailand got a lot of buzz this week with an innovative idea: a taste-tester robot, or electronic tongue, that’s programmed to distinguish authentic Thai dishes from wanna-be’s. Artificial tongues aren’t new but have been evolving. Most recently, Danish researchers developed a nanosensor that mimics “what happens in your mouth when you drink wine,” enabling winemakers to control astringency very early on. In Spain, researchers created a beer-tasting robot that can distinguish between varieties of brew.

    Meanwhile, advanced technology can also create recipes: IBM has touted how Watson, its “cognitive computing system,” can analyze the components of ingredients to come up with novel ideas for dishes; find a few of them here. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Aarhus Universitet

  • Marriage gets marginalized
    September 25, 2014 | 5:00 pm

    One of our 10 Trends for 2012 was Marriage Optional: More people around the world are living together or remaining solo instead of marrying. Pew reports this week that 1 in 5 Americans age 25 and up have never married, a fundamental shift since 1960, when only about 1 in 10 could say the same. Millennials are especially ambivalent: Two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed by Pew agree that “society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children” vs. 53 percent of the next generation up (age 30 to 49).

    Europe is seeing a similar move away from marriage, driven by “austerity, generational crisis and apathy towards the institution,” notes The Guardian. It says weddings are at historical lows in some nations; last year Italy recorded the fewest since World War I. For a look at how changing marriage patterns are affecting families, see our report Meet the New Family. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: JD Hancock

     

  • Room-sharing service Breather
    September 16, 2014 | 3:30 pm

    Breather

    Described as the “Zipcar for rooms,” Breather is an app that enables access to “beautiful, practical spaces” that can be rented anywhere from 30 minutes to a whole day. While sharing-economy players like LiquidSpace and PivotDesk offer work and meeting spaces, Breather positions its rooms as homey spots that can serve a range of purposes (though not, the founder assures, seedy ones). Rooms include the basics—a desk, a couch, Wi-Fi—as well as some fun touches like a candy jar. Lockitron technology lets users unlock doors with their mobile phones. Breather is available in New York, Montreal and San Francisco, and recently raised $6.5 million in venture capital, citing plans to “own every major market in America.” —Hallie Steiner

    Image credit: Breather

  • Barco Escape’s immersive screens
    September 11, 2014 | 4:15 pm

    Maze Runner

    Escape is a triple-screen system from Barco that “allows you to truly be in the movies, not just at the movies”—in line with the rise of immersive experiences, one of our 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond. Audiences at five U.S. locations and one Belgian cinema will get their first taste of the concept with next week’s release of The Maze Runner, about a group of teens trapped in a massive maze, which will feature about five minutes of immersive footage at key moments. ScreenX is among the other multi-screen, multi-projection cinema experiences we’ve highlighted. —Aaron Baar

    Image credit: Maze Runner

  • “Smart” personal safety
    September 2, 2014 | 6:01 pm

    Defender

    Earlier this year we wrote about the Guardian Angel, a pendant that alerts emergency contacts whenever wearers feel unsafe, created by JWT Singapore. Smart technology is addressing personal safety in other ways too. The Defender is a smart pepper spray that works in tandem with a mobile app, taking a picture of an attacker while contacting authorities. It’s in the final week of an Indiegogo campaign that has well exceeded its goal. Similarly, First Sign has crowdfunded a smart hairclip that detects physical assault, records the evidence and sends for help.

    Meanwhile, college campuses are embracing a more basic form of this tech, encouraging students to download apps like Rave Guardian and Circle of 6, which enable a chosen network to monitor a student’s GPS location during a night out. In a different vein, students at North Carolina State University made headlines last week for their Undercover Nail Polish, which changes color in the presence of “date rape drugs.” —Allison Kruk

    Image credit: The Defender

  • Nestlé’s animal-welfare standards
    August 28, 2014 | 10:00 am

    Nestle

    We wrote about rising concerns over treatment of the animals that people eat back in 2012 as brands including Burger King, McDonald’s and Hellmann’s pledged to institute more humane practices. We also included Humane Food among our Things to Watch for 2013. The trend recently picked up more steam with Nestlé’s announcement of animal welfare standards for its suppliers worldwide, following an investigation by the group Mercy for Animals.

    “The move is one of the broadest-reaching commitments to improving the quality of life for animals in the food system,” notes The New York Times, “and it is likely to have an impact on other companies that either share the same suppliers or compete with Nestlé.” Observed the influential blogger Food Babe: “People want to know where their food comes from, and in order to survive the next decade, the food industry will have to change.” —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Nestlé

  • Alternative waters
    August 19, 2014 | 1:59 pm

    Vertical Water

    With the coconut water craze going strong, watch for more variations on H2O thanks to consumer interest in more natural alternatives to soda and openness to novel products. Antioxidant-rich maple water (made from maple sap) is gaining attention, while almond water from the startup Victoria’s Kitchen has secured space at Whole Foods and Target. As the AP reports, there’s also cactus, birch and artichoke water—made from either water extracted from the plant or boiled with the ingredient in question—whose makers tout their vitamin and mineral content, as well as their infection-fighting properties. —Allison Kruk

    Image credit: Vertical Water

  • RSSArchive for Things to Watch »