When even cellphone manufacturers are extolling the virtues of switching off we’ve reached a tipping point in how consumers view their relationship with technology.
Technology will never replace love; it’s a lofty statement and the somewhat unlikely strapline for Thailand’s second largest mobile phone provider DTAC.
The ad (below) features a young father attempting to use his phone to calm his crying baby with no success. Eventually he realises by putting the phone down and focusing his love and attention on the child rather than the screen he can successfully calm his cries. (All of this is, of course, watched via video streaming by his wife in the supermarket on her mobile.)
It’s a modern morality tale for our times. In a world where technology enables us to connect, check in and compare at the touch of a button we have lost our faith in our own intuition. In effect, consumers who have outsourced such vast chunks of their lives to smartphones and apps that can record, simplify and share are losing their connection to the world around them.
We have reached an inflection point in society where consumers are actively questioning their reliance, or dependence on, screen culture. The fact that it is a mobile brand that is in essence suggesting consumers switch off is significant. Technology brands in particular need to position themselves on the right side of this curve.
We have reached an inflection point in society where consumers are actively questioning their reliance, or dependence on, screen culture.
In 2010, a three-month old baby named Sarang, which means ‘love’ in Korean, died of malnutrition while her parents were absent raising a virtual baby online. The tale is one of unimaginable tragedy. To view this story as another morality tale for our times would perhaps be a step too far; it is almost unfathomable. An anomaly, but nonetheless significant, not just for its shocking brutality, but for the way in which their virtual lives had so shockingly destroyed their real lives.
After a series of mental-health tests and interviews the court ruled that they were not guilty of murdering their child because they couldn’t distinguish the virtual world from reality. This blurring of reality is increasingly an omnipresent force in our society.
When we are reduced to the flattened out profiles of social media channels, the risk remains that consumers sacrifice too much of themselves in search of virtual validation. Technology brands in particular as stakeholders and gate-keepers in this challenging new landscape need to take a lead in this difficult, but nonetheless important debate.
Just as McDonald's France advocated only eating at the restaurant once a week, tech brands must face up to the growing social challenge posed by binge technology. The excitement and opportunity that technology affords society does not diminish the difficult social questions brands must face.