A future made of screens

21 March 2011 at 9:00 am 1 comment

Alex Steer writes:

There was a lot of discussion in our London and New York offices last week about a short video called A Day Made of Glass. It’s produced by Corning, which makes specialized glass products, including mobile and tablet touchscreens, and the video explores a day in the life of a family in a not-too-distant future in which (surprise) there are screens, especially touchscreens, in just about everything.

The first thing that struck us was Corning’s imaginative approach to the dry task of selling high-tech glass. It’s a great illustration of what can happen when you apply a bit of futures thinking to your brand. It’s also smart as a piece of brand planning, focusing on the consumers at the end of the supply chain, not Corning’s B2B customers. Creatively, it’s well executed.

But it’s the futures aspect which has provoked the debate. The video is cheerfully optimistic about the screenification of the entire world, as you’d expect from a sales tool, and cheery optimism runs through the creative work too, presenting a perfect upper-middle-class family – mum, dad, kids, all so happy and healthy-looking – that feels more like a nod to the heyday of Madison Avenue than a look to the future.

Some of the futures thinking isn’t bad. Consumerism is one of the strongest forces defining technology innovation, and this trend is everywhere in A Day Made of Glass. Glassland is about user experience, good design and straightforward, seamless interaction. All the devices assume a world of rich information and always-on connectivity.

Which is what also makes this an extreme scenario.It assumes there are no limits to our attention, or our wish to interact with everything in the way we currently interact with our phones or tablets. The prevalence of touchscreens led one of our Senior Consultants to compare it to another video, for Microsoft’s Future of Work scenarios. In both, ‘the future looks very much like the waiting room at Heathrow Terminal 5’.

In information-rich markets like the US or the UK, the desire to stay updated is already clashing with the recognition that there’s too much information, and we’re looking for more efficient filters. There’s also an emerging awareness of the importance of continuous partial attention in our interaction with media, and the need for interfaces that are useful even when they don’t have our full attention (such as radio or TV).

The continuous interested multitasking imagined in Corning’s world seems, frankly, exhausting. Said one of our SVPs: ‘The woman emailing from her bathroom? I can pretty much guarantee that if you email me anything before I’ve washed my face and brushed my teeth in the morning you’re not going to get a “yes”.’

So in the end we were a bit sceptical. We also worried about the sheer energy cost of all those screens. But hats off to Corning for producing a thought-provoking piece of work that got us talking about the future of media and technology.

Entry filed under: consumers, digital, future, innovation, technology. Tags: , .

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The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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