Photo credits: screen capture

Technology will free us — but for what?

What ads say about our digital future(s)

I saw Incredibles 2 at the theatre recently. Before the movie had even started, I’d had a vision of two very different futures of digital life.

Movies didn’t go away

Remember the forecasted demise of cinemas? Streaming was supposed to kill movie going. Yeah, that didn’t happen. 4th of July week, first show of the day, and the theatre was packed. People still love to go out together, to watch a movie on a giant screen. Above and beyond actually seeing the film, the experience of going to the theatre is fun.

The non-demise of movies points to a bigger question — how we want to use entertainment technologies. How do we want to experience them? Taken to the broadest level, the question becomes

What do we want to do with our time?
And what role will technology play in that?

The movie was highly entertaining by the way, but the ads were what captured my imagination.

Selling the future of digital life

In a stunning juxtaposition, two pre-movie ads laid out the entire dilemma of what ubiquitous digital technology could become in our lives:

Technology can bring us together, can support what we do and make it easier to enjoy day to day tasks with family.
Technology can take us away from other people, even as we go out in public surrounded by them.

Start Dinner Mode now

Samsung’s latest Hi Bixby ad shows myriad families preparing dinner.

Photo credits: screen captures

The integration of the smart fridge technology enables all kinds of interactions — around logistics issues like what time dinner is and whether you have the ingredients you need, to more collaborative efforts like planning and even wrangling kids to the table.

The ad was full of features you didn’t know you needed — until you realized you can’t live without them. My favourites:

  1. Cameras that let you see the contents of your fridge from your phone — no more guessing if you need something at the store.
  2. Dinner Mode that lets you shut down the TV when it’s time for dinner. With the fridge linked to your frontdoor cam, you can tell when one kid gets home, and simultaneously shut down the game the other kids are playing in a different room, to shoo them in to dinner.

The smart fridge became a part of the interactions, supporting kids and adults in their interactions with each other, around family life.

Binge Better

Following Samsung’s uplifting vision of how seamlessly technology can ease the management of a human-connected life, the Audible ad was incomprehensible.

Photo credits: screen captures

It starts with a woman peering out her blinds: “The sun is shining. So why binge in here - when you can do it out there?”

Billed as giving you the freedom to bring your favorite books outside, the ad showed scores of people with their headphones on moving about in sun-drenched natural settings, interacting with no one. At the beach, in the car, hiking, or just walking in your neighborhood — no reason to have to speak to anyone ever again! Because now you can lock yourself into whatever world of your choosing, and go about your life as if other people don’t exist.

The future of digital life? It’s complicated.

Maybe I’m just not the demographic for the Audible ad. Or maybe there’s something deeper here that needs calling out.

There is no doubt that technology will free up time and capacity. The question is — What are we being freed up for?

How do we want to spend our time? And what role will technology play in that?

I’d like to think that we are seeking more connection, more time together to share and build our lives. That’s certainly what I am advocate for children, and what I think we all need desperately today.

The Samsung and Audible ads were shown back to back, and the contrast couldn’t have been greater. They give two visions of what technology will do for us — how it serves us — and two very different visions of how technology will shape us.

Which way will we go?