Does wearable tech like Google Glass signal the age of ‘leaning in’

Tablet computers aren’t the first piece of technology to disrupt the industry: since the 1980s we’ve seen considerable advancement from computers the size of rooms to the one I’m clutching and writing an article with, on the train home from work. Twenty years ago we could never have envisioned that mobile phones would shrink to the size they did, and then elongate to the size they’re currently at.

Companies that have faced this disruption have either evolved or become extinct while whole industries have formed in the wake of new ones. Human beings should be more intelligent thanks to the dropping price of access to technology and ubiquitous information. Tablets, however, aren’t the end of this evolutionary cycle: Google Glass presents a major shift as broadcast-able technology becomes wearable.

A recent Google study mentions that Content is King, and multi-screen digital media consumption is Queen, with the major finding being that 90% of all of our media consumption, or 4.4 hours per day, is happening across all four devices (smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop computer). As an aside, Google Chrome’s synching with other devices that users are logged into is pure genius when it comes to a seamless browser experience across devices.The Economist Group refers to tablets as heralding the third age of “leaning back” where the first two ages have been leaning back reading a newspaper, and leaning forward to access our desktop computer screens.

Lean Back 2.0 – updated February 2012 from The Economist GroupOne could argue that the onset of wearable technology is going to lead to the age of “leaning in” in the sense that we’re all going to be leaning into each others’ lives.

What we need to start asking is:

How will this medium change media? YouTube currently receives an upload rate of 72 hours every minute, so if you thought the current onslaught of User Generated Content was overbearing, we’re in for a veritable tsunami of first person content now. As screens have gotten smaller so the display of information has had to become simpler; user-interface design is going to be vitally important if information is going to be effectively consumed.

What kind of human behaviour will this encourage? The human race is going to broadcast and share their lives more than ever before and conversely, we’re going to be consuming each other’s moments and movements at an increasing rate. Google’s Glass video alludes to those moments we just have to share and its integration with the shiner Google+ makes it even easier to broadcast your life. Naively, this has the potential to increase user activism as more first person stories are told and shared; it’s definitely going to magnify the results of real-time citizen journalism.

What kind of businesses will flourish because of this? This technology is going to be a massive boon for any business that is in the public eye and takes advantage of it. From the evidence Google has produced, Glass is going to be hyper-local and companies that sign up for products like “Floor Plan” are going to be able to prosper from users looking for a store close to them. Conversely, this kind of hardware/software integration is going to lead to a lot of already-existing geolocation-based apps becoming null and void.

How will advertising change? We’re already seeing massive growth in requests for integrated advertising RFPs as highlighted by The Economist Group.The trick is going to be integrating this hyper-local media format with effective offline and online marketing. Wearable technology is going to be pivotal in joining offline media buys with their online counterparts. Perhaps QR codes will actually be of some use now. Creative Directors from different ad agencies try to one-up each other with their executions and the industry is going to have to learn a whole new set of skills when it comes to executing well on wearable media. On the business side, we’re going to see new ways to measure the media as “click throughs” simply aren’t going to cut it anymore — perhaps ratio of people activating– Glass ad vs people walking into stores and redeeming coupons is going to be the standard — it’s certainly about a higher level of engagement than more traditional forms of advertising.

One really big question remains: can we change fast enough to accommodate it?

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