What do our behaviors in the internet age signify and say about us? How do we communicate in a post modern era? And, what principles should we keep in mind when designing experiences? These were the broad areas Laura Porto Stockwell covered in her talk: The Post Modern Reality: Connecting in a Deconstructed World at the Seattle Interactive Conference 2012. Stockwell is the VP Experience Strategy at POP, a leading Seattle based digital marketing and experience design agency.
Anchored in the theory of media ecology by Marshal McLuhan she theorized that the way we currently expect people to think and act is out of sync with reality. And, as communication technologies are the key drivers of social change, how we process information, perceive time and space, and understand ourselves in relation to others changes alongside advances.
Across each era of media history, time and space had different meanings and each was uniquely associated with one of the senses.
During the tribal era time was cyclical and very community focused. Uniquely associated with the sense of sound, the ear was the dominant organ of the tribal era. Hearing was a collective act within the community; people gathered around to listen to stories or sermons. Hence sound marked the space as well as the community.
The literary era was marked by the emergence of the alphabet, which made us visual thinkers. The dominant organ associated with it was the eye – the sense of sight – which was a very different way to process information than through sound. Even vocabulary associated with thinking included words like ‘visionary’ or phrases like ‘point of view’. The alphabet also made us independent; reading was a solitary act and coronation of this era is that you could distribute thought to people who were not present with you.
The electronic era, non-linear and infinite in time and space, reunified us. Mass media once again resembled the act of ‘gathering around the fire.’ This era is associated with the nervous system, an extension of us, and the simultaneous engagement of many senses.
Beginning with the telegraph, the electronic era deconstructed time and space. And, mobile and social technologies have grabbed the baton and continue to do so right up to this minute.
Today, with mobile phones we really have time in our pockets and, as we pay attention to many things at one time, we’ve set up ourselves in a mode of work-life blending. Our behavior and responses are non-linear. We send an email or drop a message while we’re doing something else. We don’t feel the need to call because a phone call does not blend in anymore. As Stockwell explained, to make a phone call a block of time has to be set aside. And mobile messaging patterns reveal that texting has deconstructed the alphabet too; ‘c u l8r’ is more visual than alphabetical.
Citing a study published on Mashable that stated 64% of digital dads versus 77% of average Joes feel that digital technologies are making children less proficient in English, Math, and grammer than previous generations, Stockwell pointed out that every new technology will have its haters, just as Socrates hated the alphabet. But the real questions are: Does it matter? Are emerging methods just better and adaptive ways to communicate? Probably yes, if it’s anything that the past has taught us.
Without definitive answers, the challenge that faces those in design and marketing is how to communicate with the post-modern world.
Stockwell suggests three design principles that can aid in navigating the complexity that lies ahead and help us embrace the post modern:
1. Sensational Awareness
- The human experience supersedes computers and networks. Machines and design should allow for emotional data input drawn from human experiences that, when integrated with quantitative data, has deeper context and connection.
3. Asynchronous Synergy
- To quote Marshall McLuhan, “Our new electronic environment compels commitment and participation, and fulfills man’s psychic and social needs at profound levels.” We therefore should assume a social world and design for quantitative and qualitative dimensions of time (chronos and/or kairos), which really means time itself and time for when something special happens. In short, design for moments, such as Caine’s arcade.
- Conversations in the post modern era are asynchronous. Ones started on social media can go to unexpected places weeks later. We ought to therefore look for deconstructed ways to sync.
3. Inherent Learning
- Data is everywhere and we should be looking for it beyond regular sources. We need to think about a world beyond classification.
- Enable unique realizations and learning for both user and system through pattern recognition. Pinterest is a key example of how users can find out things about themselves by using it. But can we make a system like that richer?
- Above all, focus on the user – their moods – and look where there may be unexpected impact and insights.
In all, new platforms and technologies will yield new behavior and insights, providing us with opportunities for engagement. The challenge is in making technology breathe and building connected experiences that tell their own story.