Good day, and welcome to The Futures Company’s April LIVE Spotlight entitled, “Technology Mythbusters: Separating fact from fiction,” presented by Ryan McConnell, associate head of US MONITOR and Andy Stubbings, Sr. Consultant and co-author of the Technology in 2020 Futures Perspective series. At this time, I’d like to hand the conference over to Ryan McConnell.
The year was 1993. Bill and Hillary Clinton were getting acquainted to the White House. Jurassic Park was breaking box office records. Whitney Houston’s song “I will always love you” was inescapable. And the Internet—or, as it was known then, the “information superhighway”—was just beginning to bloom, igniting widespread hopes of digital technology’s potential to utterly transform society.Evidence of this hope was found in a series of ads by AT&T released that year. Directed by David Fincher, who later would shoot Hollywood hits like Fight Club and The Social Network, and narrated by Magnum PI himself, Tom Selleck, the advertisements gave viewers an exciting glimpse of a near-utopia that technology would soon usher in.
“Have you ever ,” “Sent a fax … from the beach?”“Tucked your baby in … from a phone booth?”“Gotten a phone call … from your wrist?”“You will” and the company that will bring it to you: AT&T.
Flash forward nearly 20 years. Techno-utopia like this is alive and well. In fact, dozens of companies of late have achieved viral success by creating glossy videos that present their unique vision of the future. And, let me tell you, the future looks amazing, all thanks to the power of technology.Microsoft, for instance, sees a day in the near-future when elementary schools—presumably flush with millions of dollars in excess cash—are able to bring together classrooms in the US and India and enable instantaneous language translation through transparent screens.The glass manufacturer Corning envisions a future in which we wake up, head to the bathroom and are greeted by an email message from the boss telling us that the meeting had been bumped up an hour to 8:30 am. You’ll be surprised to hear glass plays a very central role in Corning’s vision of the future.And IBM believes the time is near when we just think about calling someone and it becomes reality. Now, these visions of the future are highly entertaining and, if you don’t take them very seriously, completely harmless. And the point of introducing them in this forum is not to poke fun at predictions that have either gone awry or are overly ambitious. Forecasting the future is, to say the least, an inexact science, and they should be commended for at least trying.But we do bring them up here because they all suffer from the same, fundamental mistake, and one that has been made repeatedly since the advent of the digital revolution back in the early 1990s: They focus almost entirely upon the vast potential of the technology itself, and not enough on the more complex range of factors that tend to push a technology forward or, in many cases, hold it back.
And while this tech-centric approach to looking at the future may have made sense back in the 90s when digital technology was completely new, exciting and full of seemingly unlimited potential, it’s not 1993 anymore. In fact, it’s been 40 years since the protocols that constitute the Internet were first completed, 20 years since the invention of the World Wide Web and a decade since social media started to evolve. And with the benefit of time, we now have enough perspective to start to draw conclusions about how the digital era is changing and the effect it will have on our lives.
At The Futures Company, we believe there is a better way of anticipating the future of technology. It’s not likely to be found “coolhunting” in Brooklyn, or in a high-tech lab in Silicon Valley. No, our philosophy is that you simply cannot understand the future of technology by looking at technology in a vacuum. A broader lens is required, one that takes into account a range of other factors.Factors such as consumer needs and motivations, changes in social values, emerging trends, infrastructure, shifts in law and regulations and core science and technology.It also requires the usage of in-depth tools that dig beneath the surface and explore whether the latest technology hyped in Fast Company magazine or TechCrunch is really the “next big thing” or just another Segway or Second Life. Some of the tools we have at our disposal include scanning for emerging issues and trends, Global/US MONITOR analysis and insight, our proprietary technology knowledge base, a literature review and review of other forecasts, and our own proprietary frameworks and analysis tools.
Now, I suppose we could take you through a dry, straightforward presentation of each and every one of these inputs and tools. But our time today is limited, however, and doing so would, frankly, be tedious, both for us and for you. Instead, we’re taking a page from last month’s LIVE Spotlight. Loyal listeners will recall that we “shamelessly exploited the NCAA tournament in our demographic trends bracket.” This month, we’re moving away from sports and turning our rapacious gaze on the world of pop culture, specifically the Discovery Channel’s show “Mythbusters.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with the program, it features these two gentlemen, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, as they explore the world and test the validity of various myths, ultimately giving a “confirmed” or “busted” rating. But instead of testing whether a combination of Diet Coke and Menthos makes a human’s stomach explode, or whether a dropped penny from a skyscraper can kill someone, Andy and I are going to use their “busted” and “confirmed” framework to explore the world of technology.
For this task, we largely focused on the topics we felt were most pressing to address. To do this , we solicited our colleagues in both the US and the UK about what our clients were asking about most often. Some of the contenders that ultimately didn’t make the cut were driverless cars, augmented reality, QR codes, the future of anonymity online, mobile health and 3-d printing. Frankly, some of these are awfully ripe for “busting” and it truly hurt us to proceed without them. But, ultimately, we chose six topics that we believe are most important for you to understand in order to best prepare your organizations for the future.
To bring you through the first three statements, we have Andy Stubbings, a senior consultant in our London office and the co-author of our Futures Perspective series, Technology in 2020. As you heard a few minutes ago, he also does one mean Tom Selleck impression. Welcome, Andy!Andy: Thank you. So, as Ryan said, we’re going to evaluate the following six statements. For many of you, these statements will look familiar since we sent them to you last week with instructions if you wanted to play along. To add a little bit of intrigue into the mix, prior to reading each one, I’ll announce what percentage of respondents to our survey thought the statement would be confirmed, and what percentage of you thought the statement would be busted. It’s going to be like Family Fortunes (or Family Feud, if you’re in the US), except with PowerPoint.Without further ado, here are the statements.Technology is expanding at a pace never seen before.It’s impossible to predict the future of technology.Mobile is “the next big thing”A cashless society is imminentTechnology is the best way to understand MillennialsAn “always on” way of life is the future.
So our first myth: “Technology is expanding at a pace never seen before.” Again, 60% of you said this would be busted. And you are correct. It’s BUSTED!If someone asks, tell them, sure, Moore’s “law” is set to continue for the next decade, but that essentially digital technology is following the same pattern as other technological revolutions, and thinking more intelligently about the social impact of digital technology might tell us that while it’s not going to get ‘faster’ per se, the social impact is going to be deeper.Marketing implication: Additionally, with digital technology following the same trajectory as the previous big four platforms, we can expect that the “winners of today”—the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons—won’t likely be the winners of tomorrow as the deployment phase ramps up.
Our second statement: We can’t predict what the biggest technologies of the next decade will be. 75% of you thought this statement would be busted. Let’s see if you’re right.
Now clearly, how these are technologies are all related, as no doubt some of you will be fully aware, is that they are the elements involved in computing. People have talked about the advent of ‘distributed’ or ubiquitous computing since the 1980s, moving the ‘desktop’ model of computing, where the data, device, screen and sensors were all part of one object so to speak. But it is the innovation within Data, Devices, Screens and Sensors that will allow this to happen: the decoupling and recombining of the parts of what was originally one computer that is going to be completely transformational. Whereas we are seeing some of this now—you can access your stuff or share your files anywhere using cloud computing services and networked devices—in the future computing will be, pretty much literally, everywhere. This will translate into intelligent environments which intuitively connect data, objects and people, and it will be this that proves genuinely transformational on different areas of everyday life, whether that’s retail, work, or your home—all areas we pick up on in the Tech 2020 series, by the way.
Our third statement: Mobile is “the next big thing.” Pretty close verdict on this one: 55% of you thought it would be busted.
So this is something that has been ‘predicted’ for many years now – and yes, we’ve managed to squeeze in another old film reference with Michael Douglas’s oversized phone in Wall Street. The prophecies don’t go back quite as far as that, but I’m sure many of you will be aware through other tech conferences, blogs or white papers you’ve read that every year is said to be The Year of the Mobile, so much so that it has become something of a standing joke.Now let’s take stock for a minute.Everyone can spot the transformational potential of the mobile phone. Just to give you three examples:It has got into the hands of more people globally more quickly than any other technology in history: at last count, 69% of the world’s population has a mobile phone subscription.Apple devices have created the fastest new technology ecosystem in history.Smartphones are more powerful now than personal computers a decade agoBut, let’s not forget thatSmartphones are still at sub-10% penetration globallyLocation-based applications and other mobile internet applications are yet to move into the mainstreamAnd nobody really knows what consumers are prepared to share about themselves on their mobile
If you’ve been paying attention to the news these past few years, you’d definitely think the end of the greenback is near. Whether it’s The Economist putting “The End of the Cash Era” on its cover a few years ago, PayPal predicting the end of the wallet by 2015, reports about Sweden going cashless or trend firms breathlessly predicting a “cashless” economy, this has been a very popular topic of discussion of late. In fact, the momentum behind the cashless movement seems downright unstoppable.
And, when you really think about, there’s ample reason why we might want to replace cash. If you put aside any attachment you may have to the founding fathers or the color green … cash isn’t so great. As David Wolman outlined in his recent book, “The End of Money,” cash …Is expensive. A 2004 study by the Brookings Institution estimated that moving away from a paper-based network to a completely electronic one could save the economy 1 percent of its annual GDP—a $150 billion sum in the US. Is inconvenient and untrackable: If you lose your cash, it’s gone, no questions asked.Is dirty, figuratively speaking: It’s the main enabler of the black market and of tax evasionIs literally dirty: A 2008 study found that 94% of dollars in a random sample contain bacteria that could cause at least mild illness.
Add up all these factors, and the fact that, as Andy just outlined, mobility is, indeed “the next big thing,” and there’s ample reason to believe that the overstuffed wallet sported by George Costanza in Seinfeld here will soon be a thing of the past. That’s because, if you listen to any of the players with a stake in the future of payments, paying with your “digital wallet” will be as simple as taking it out of your pocket and waving it at a terminal like the one shown on this page. This will, they promise, provide not only a quicker, more convenient experience, but one that will allow us to throw away all of those loyalty cards, bank statements and receipts, as all of this will be updated in real-time as we use it. We’ll even be able to receive special location-based, relevant offers from our favorite retailers.Sounds so simple and easy, right?
As Andy mentioned earlier, one of the unfortunate byproducts of overzealous technology forecasting, however, is a tendency to overlook the thorny details in infrastructure and culture; to the technological determinists, if the technology is good enough, everything will just “work its way out” and fall into place.The hype around the “digital wallet” falls prey to this in big way. In fact, there are several major roadblocks standing in the way of the digital wallet getting mass adoption.For one, the list of the companies that want a piece of this pie reads like a “who’s who” of the most powerful companies in the world today. There’s the tech contingent like Google, which launched its Wallet product late last year to lackluster results. There’s the telecom giants like Isis, a combination of Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, that will be launching later in the year. And, most recently, there are the retailers like Target, Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven and others that announced their plans to own the mobile payment arena, saying that they were unhappy with the security of the offerings on the horizon. On the one hand, all this competition is positive! It’s the engine of capitalism, after all, and maybe all the urgency around mobile payments will lead them all to join hands and create a truly collaborative model in which they all share in the benefits. But perhaps a more likely scenario is a period of fragmentation as each of these powerful players attempts to win this potentially lucrative space. And that, unfortunately, is likely to lead to confusion for consumers, confusion that will likely lead most consumers to sit on the sidelines and “wait out the chaos.”Additionally, there’s a very real problem related to the technology that, in most scenarios, will enable the “wave and pay” system to work: near-field communication (or NFC). For contactless payments to work, both phones and retailers need to have this installed. But according to The Yankee Group, just 1% of phones today are NFC-enabled. This is expected to grow in the next few years, but even phone makers desperate for differentiation are taking their time to embrace the technology since it’s costly and weighs down the device.More importantly, according to Crone Consulting, just 150,000 of over 6 million merchants are equipped to accept them. And, with each individual NFC-enabled outlet costing $400-500, not to mention the retraining and software upgrades required, many retailers are going to wait for consumer demand to be abundantly clear before investing, especially among the small businesses.Add it all up, and there’s a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg problem for mobile payments: Retailers and even some phone manufacturers aren’t overly eager to put NFC into their phones because consumers’ aren’t asking for it. And consumers aren’t asking for it because there just aren’t that many locations that accept it. It’s a ecosystem that will likely remain chaotic and confusing for at least a few years longer.
But even if we magically made all of the infrastructure issues disappear, adoption of mobile payments is likely to be a slow process. Why? Forrester has been surveying consumer interest in mobile payments and, while it’s growing over the past few years, the total percentage of people interested is still just 18%. To put this number in context … 29% of Americans believe Bigfoot is real. And, Andy, before you get too smug, 17% of Brits believe that the Loch Ness Monster is real.Why aren’t people interested in mobile payments? Well, to a lot of consumers, it seems like a solution to something that isn’t really a problem. As Jack Stephenson, the director of mobile, e-commerce and payments at JPMorgan Chase recently put it, “Consumers don’t really have a mobile payments problem. 95% of the time, paying with cash and credit cards works pretty well.” What he doesn’t say explicitly is that e-payments can be tracked, and while that’s great for marketers, there are many things that people like to pay for that they don’t want to be tracked, for various reasons.Now, you can certainly make the case that consumers don’t actually know what they’re missing and will flock to it once they do. As Henry Ford supposedly said “If I asked consumers what they want, they’d tell me a faster horse.” Perhaps mobile payments are like this, too.But it’s not a big leap to say that any mobile payment system is going to need to absolutely ensure security. And, right now, that’s a big question mark: According to a March Ipsos poll, 83%of US consumers cite security as the most important factor affecting their interest in mobile payments. Finally, when you look at consumer trends, as we outlined in our most recent State of the Consumer presentation, there’s quite a lot of “Energy around Self-Protection.” Privacy concerns are getting stronger, not weaker. Thus, the environment for asking consumers to make a big risk—especially with their money—is perhaps not exactly ripe.
At this juncture it’s important to note a finding from “The Shock of the Old,” a book exploring Technology and Global history since 1900. Though we tend to see a new technology as something revolutionary that sweeps aside all things that came before it, it rarely is. In fact, most technologies are additive rather than substitutional, especially when they’re well-established. And there’s really not many things that are more established than paper money.It might be one reason why the penny and the nickel, which both cost far more to produce than they’re worth, are still alive and kicking. And it’s why they’re likely to stick around for at least another few decades or, if you believe a recent analysis by the Aite Group, a whole lot longer than that. “The United States is nowhere near the realization of a ‘cashless society’.” They predict the end of the greenback as not being 2015 like PayPal predicted, but 2205.
So is a cashless society imminent? I suppose it depends on your definition of imminent. Long-term, it is very possible that dirty, inconvenient and expensive paper money no longer plays a big role in how we pay for things. But that future is still a long way away. This myth is bustedWhat does this mean from a marketing perspective? Well, for many of you, it means taking the hysterical headlines more in stride and dedicating your resources to innovating around consumer needs that are more pressing.
Now, of all the topics clients ask us about at The Futures Company, the topic of Millennials is at or near the top of the list. And you’d be surprised by the wide variety of questions we receive. In fact, there’s quite a lot of misinformation about this group, a situation that is exacerbated by the popular press. For example, they’re supposedly “Green,” despite their attitudes about the environment declining in line with, if not more than, the rest of the population. They’re “optimistic,” despite their views on the future taking quite a beating due to the recession. And they’re “open-minded,” despite declines in this measure as well.
But what about Millennials’ attitudes and usage of technology? If you’ve read any overview presentation or done any research on this group, their passion for technology, the Internet, mobile phones and social media rises to the top. Is this overblown, too? Or is it a largely accurate statement?
To answer this question, we have a fairly comprehensive source: The Global MONITOR study, a survey of 20 countries worldwide , including, of course, the United States. We recently conducted a global segmentation study of 8,500 Millennials, which we defined as being between the ages of 16 and 31. By doing so, we believe we’re able to really dig beneath the surface and get the real answer about Millennials and technology.
Here’s what we found in our report “Unmasking Millennials.” The way Millennials use technology makes them different from the other generations. And they’re different in four specific and distinct ways.They live in real time. Nearly two-thirds own a smart phone, over twice as many as Baby Boomers and, as such, they expect to be able to live a fluid, on-the-go lifestyle and want their connections and brands to be as flexible as they are. In fact, according to our Global MONITOR study, over half (52%) agree, “I really need the shops and services I use to be available me around the clock.”They show a virtually limitless appetite for connectivity. Whether it’s through social networks, text messages, chat functionality or elsewhere, Millennials tend to treat online access like it’s oxygen. For instance, three-fifths of Millennials Check social networking sites several times each day or several times each hour (among social networking users) compared with just 35% of Baby Boomers.They use technology to enhance their knowledge and power. “Showrooming” has been getting a lot of press of late; this is the phenomenon in which people shop in brick-and-mortar locations only to later buy online. Millennials are leading the way in this area. For example, 54% agree, “With the ability to text message, take pictures in stores, and get the opinions from my friends, my cell phone/smart phone has become an indispensable tool when I shop,” vs. 22% of Boomers.And, finally, they’re living more of their life through technology. They simply show a greater dependence and love for it. As you see here, nearly two-thirds of Millennials agree, “I could not get by without my cell phone (among those who own cell phones).”
However, though Millennials’ usage of technology is universally high, it’s important to understand that they’re not all the same. In fact, in our segmentation study, we found that there were wide discrepancies between those who use technology more as a creative facilitator, a group we call “spirits,” and those who use it more as a tool for performance, a group we call “satellites”. And then are those groups somewhere in between, the steppers and the striders.The bottom line: If you’re trying to get a handle on Millennials, the place to start is through their technology usage and attitudes. With a majority being “digital natives”—that is, they came of age not knowing a time when digital technology was around—technology really is the thing that separates Millennials from other generations. But differing uses of technology within the Millennial group are extremely important as well.
So, on to our final statement: An “always on” way of life is the future. Another close vote: 55% of you believe this statement will be confirmed.
As digital technology has steadily become a bigger and bigger part of our lives of late, many of us have had a difficult time setting boundaries between being always available or “always on” and carving out our own personal space.For many, the pull of the text message, status update or other digital distraction on the smart phone overrides everything, no matter if they’re driving, eating with family or friends, or even sitting on a beach chair while on vacation. And the line between work and personal life, too, has been blurred as digital communication enables constant connection.But what about the future? Will this state continue? Will we all adjust to this “always on” approach to life? Will a backlash develop? Or will it look like something else?
What we found was perhaps counterintuitive: The more pervasive digital technology gets, the less people feel they have to be “always on.” In other words, if you are living in a highly networked country, people don’t think that more mobile phone usage, faster broadband and the like should mean that everyone should be available, all of the time. In fact, they tend to think the exact opposite. And, furthermore, high levels of infrastructure generally equal lower engagement with technology. By this we mean that people are generally less excited by the potential and novelty of digital technologies in countries where they are more mature and have been around for longer. They have stopped being extraordinary and start becoming part of everyday life. To borrow from the words of the computer scientist Mark Weisser: “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”
What does this mean for the future of the US marketplace? Well, of late, some marketers like the clothing brand Diesel have tapped into a small but growing “unplugging” trend by holding events that encourage “stepping slowly away from their computer.” Multiple organizations have also promoted “national day of unplugging” events that encourage people to spend just 24 hours without logging on to a computer. And we’ve seen hotels and other vacation destinations do this too. But these up until now have been a fairly niche movement in protest to what seemed like the inexorable move to “always on.” Based on these Global MONITOR findings, however, we expect this tension to subside somewhat and for social norms around technology to shift in favor of installing boundaries around when and where it is acceptable to be contacted. We have seen evidence of this already in some of our tracking of emerging trends and in qualitative research: deliberate usages of pre-digital technology or sacred, set times that are “unwired.” We have even seen instances of full rooms in a house that are designated as “no technology zones.” We don’t know exactly how this will develop, but we do believe that we’ll see a more sophisticated relationship with connectivity than the “fire hose” approach we’ve seen these past several years. Furthermore, the “always on” and “off the grid” terminology will likely fade and become irrelevant fairly soon when technology is everywhere. Said another way, in the DDSS era, there really won’t be as much of an option of “turning off.” When this happens, we expect there to be opportunities for marketers to be as seamless , unobtrusive and intuitive as possible.
As we mentioned, if you want to dig into our perspective on technology in a deeper way, read our Technology 2020 series of reports. You can find them on The Futures Company’s home page under the “free thinking” section. Not only will you find Technology 2020, but three follow-up reports, Personal Worlds, Commercial Worlds and Public Worlds. Warning: There are no references to Mythbusters, Tom Selleck, Jeff Goldblum, Bigfoot, Michael Douglas, George Costanza or Captain Kirk.
Thanks everyone. Next month’s LIVE Spotlight will be hosted by Ann Clurman and the topic will be a lively discussion about Generation X Women. Should be one of the highlights of the year, and I’m not just saying that because Ann is my boss.
April LIVE Spotlight:Technology MythbustingSeparating fact from fictionPresented by:Ryan McConnell, Associate Head of US MONITORAndy Stubbings, Sr. Consultant and co-author of Technology 2020 Futures PerspectiveWe Are Tweeting This Today at @FuturesCo #Techmyths