Yesterday I spoke at the One Question Conference – a whole day focused on a single question and hearing perspectives from Rory Sutherland to Fred Bolza of Sony Music. The focus was on technology and specifically on ‘How we marry technology and humanity?’ I spoke from the agency perspective – looking at how technology can help brands to communicate with consumers, areas where it doesn’t help as much as it should, and areas where it just gets in the way.
The broader issue of the interplay between technology and human behaviour change is one ripe for not just a day’s conference but an ongoing discussion. The narrative that technology is changing the way that we, as humans, are behaving, is naïve; a potential simplification that stops us from truly understanding the change we are living through and how to respond to it.
It is true that new technologies and changes in existing ones do change our behaviour; they might make things easier, quicker or let us do things in different and new ways. But the reality of any technology change is that the impact it has is significantly more complicated. Not only does new technology change our behaviour with it, it also changes our behaviour with existing technologies; it changes their place and role in our lives. A classic example of this would be the invention of the cinema. When it was launched it did not herald the end of the theatre, but rather it changed how consumers interacted with both things – the place of theatre in our live changed. The new technology of cinema made us change behaviour and re-evaluate the role of the theatre in our lives. When television came along our behaviour changed again and we re-evaluated both the roles of the cinema and of the theatre. With live-streaming of movies at home now easily available in many markets, we are re-evaluating all of these things again.
But more than this – these changes are driven in the first place by a change (or a desire for change) in human behaviour. These may be consciously driven – we identify a problem that we want technology to fix – less consciously so – technology develops to develop a problem we have but did not know we had – or driven by one need and then transferred to another – such as with the text message. Whether directly or indirectly, much technology change is, therefore, driven by humanity, our behaviours and our needs.
So the interplay of humanity and technology is complicated. Human behaviour – our conscious and less conscious needs – leads to new technologies. And these new technologies then cause changes in the way we behave and interact as we fit them into our lives.
A simple assertion that technology is changing our lives risk over-simplifying the network of change that is happening; the interplay between human behaviour and technology in our lives. And this over-simplification matters as it is only if we truly understand the complexity of what is happening that we can start to adapt to it; and that as marketers we can use it in the most effective way to help brands communicate to humans.