by Walker Smith
The biggest technology trend these days is about less of it not more. Perhaps most emblematic of this is the Personal Surveillance Identity Prosthetic for which Chicago artist Leo Salvaggio is currently crowdsourcing funding. It’s an anti-surveillance mask fabricated so that facial recognition systems see it as Leo’s face. It’s not the first or only thing Leo has created to enable other people to hide their identities behind his. His URME project is beta testing video facial encryption software, and his You Are Me project gives people the ability to assume his digital profile when using social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Mind you, Salvaggio is not anti-technology. He just wants boundaries, places where technology is not allowed to go. So does artist Adam Harvey, who created a clothing line called Stealth Wear. Harvey’s hoodie, scarf and burqa are all made with a metalized fabric that impedes thermal imaging. Harvey believes that as technological surveillance grows, people will want tools like his clothing to reassert control over their privacy.
Worries about the overreach of technology are growing as commercial enterprises, not just law enforcement or national security agencies, beef up their databases and surveillance. For example, Google and Facebook have been enhancing their facial recognition capabilities through acquisitions and applications development, though not without controversy. In the face of heavy criticism, Google Glass dropped plans to include a beta version of NameTag, an app that can instantly match a face with a person’s name, occupation and Facebook profile. In fact, ever since Google Glass was first unveiled in 2012, wearers have been faced with forceful, often ferocious, hostility from people who don’t want to be photographed or recorded without their permission.
But it’s not just that technology is becoming more intrusive. It’s becoming more overwhelming as well. Fast Company, long the herald of all things digital, now has a section on its website with step-by-step instructions for unplugging. Mindfulness is the buzzword of the moment, one of four ideas championed by Arianna Huffington in her recent bestseller, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.
Again, this pushback is not anti-technology. Nobody is looking to disconnect entirely from technology. People just want a different way to connect. They want something other than 24/7 immersion. They want places and times when they can step away from technology. Unplugging is not the opposite of being plugged in. Instead, it is the new way in which people want to be plugged in.
In a related vein, studies of how people engage with wearables over time find that usage drops precipitously after the novelty wears off. Active involvement takes time and attention that people find hard to sustain, particularly as one technology after another piles up on them. This is the reason why we at Kantar Futures foresee the future of digital as a “pivot to passive” involving a shift in brand marketing engagement from active screens to passive sensors.
In the rush to digital these days, it is easy for brand marketers to get swept up into going too far. Brand marketers fret about being behind the curve, but today’s breaking wave is not about technology saturation. It’s about technology temperance.
Obviously, brand marketers can’t ignore digital technologies. But brand marketers must be smarter about the digital experience of consumers. People want to be part of the digital flow. Getting the most out of that requires getting away entirely some of the time. Kit Kat had some fun with that last year in a twist on its tag line, turning “Have a break, have a Kit Kat” into “Have a break, have No Wifi” with a “Free NoWifi Zone” it set up in Amsterdam. Kit Kat wasn’t saying technology is bad, only that people should enjoy a break every now and then. That’s the new style of digital customer engagement, and thus the new digital imperative for brand marketing.
This blog post originally appeared on Branding Strategy Insider.