Putting technology back in its place

The Fifth conference published a short piece on one of the theme I am thinking about a lot these days: the need to push back technology into it’s place of being useful and convenient, rather than invasive and interruptive.

As curator of the Lift Conferences you have a privileged view of some of the more interesting ideas and debates on technology. Thus, what in your opinion are the most interesting technology trends coming our way?  

The main issue I’m grappling with is the increasing mismatch between the information coming at us and the way we’re able to manage or process that information; and I’m not only talking about information overload here.  Overload is a recurring feeling, and a look at history puts things in perspective. In 1613, English author Barnaby Rich wrote “one of the diseases of this age is the multiplicity of books; they doth so overcharge the world that it is not able to digest the abundance of idle matter that is every day hatched and brought forth into the world“. Every time a new technology comes we feel overloaded by it, the internet is no exception.

What I am talking about is a broader issue. I am wondering whether technologies are really in line with the way we function, and if not what the consequences are.


Slow IT, did we actually even ‘think’ today?

Technology is culture – as Basile Zimmermann explained at Lift10 (find the video here) – and it starts to be obvious there is a gap between the Anglo Saxon and the European vision. Here comes slow IT, inspired by the slow food movement that started in Italy. The beginning of adaptation of IT to the old continent’s culture?

Dinner in the US is a one-hour business. Therefore when Americans spend time in Italy they really suffer. First they have to wait until about 9 o’clock for dinner time and then they have to stay put at the table for hours. In a way it highlights a cultural clash between the Anglo Saxon world, which is all about speed and a ‘just do it’ attitude, versus the Rhineland model which is more contemplative and reflective.  Not that the one is better than the other off course. The Anglo Saxon approach tends to be more dynamic and innovative while in the Rhineland model we can get stuck in endless discussions.

I come from the IT sector so in a way we helped create the fast, chaotic world we live in today. Clearly there is opportunity to reflect on the way we interact with technology, both on the side of the producer and the consumer.  As consumers we are bombarded by impulses.  But also at the producer side we often run ahead of ourselves. At Capgemini we increasingly receive requests from clients to produce fast, for the short term. There is no time anymore for strategy, for vision and architecture; when these elements are so important.

[Nicholas Carr] is arguing that the internet is changing the way we think. You can clearly see that in the way young people think.  They’re very good at finding information quickly, online obviously, but they lack depth in understanding. The internet offers access to a huge amount of information but we tend to use that information very superficially and that is gradually turning us into superficial thinkers.


How to save the news

In depth article that recaps the issues that the news industry is facing, and hints at possible solutions to work around the current media crisis.

The diagnostic

“It’s the triple whammy,” Eric Schmidt said when I interviewed him. “Loss of classifieds, loss of circulation, loss of the value of display ads in print, on a per-ad basis. Online advertising is growing but has not caught up.”

What a good business model needs to be made of:

The three pillars of the new online business model, as I heard them invariably described, are distribution, engagement, and monetization. That is:
– getting news to more people, and more people to news-oriented sites;
– making the presentation of news more interesting, varied, and involving;
– converting these larger and more strongly committed audiences into revenue, through both subscription fees and ads.

The article then lists several possibilities for each of the above pillar.

Living Stories is an experiment rewarding serious, sustained reporting, different from the usual ranking mechanisms that reward instantaneity.

Fast Flip is “an attempt to approximate the inviting aspects of leafing through a magazine”.

YouTube Direct is a system “which any publication can put on its own Web site”, allowing “readers can then easily send in their video clips, for the publication to review, censor, combine, or shorten”.

Display ads will become a conversation, “now your users can communicate back to you”. A huge logistical challenge for brands, but certainly one that will reward those who manage to create an engaging experience from their advertisement.

These examples show that for each pillar there are possibilities to improve the current situation. But nothing comes easy these days, and there is no unique and magical business model. Each media will have to find its own model among a large range of possibilities:

“People have adjusted their cost curves to their own form of monetization. The Harvard Business Review is not fretting about a loss of advertising [most of its revenue comes from subscribers]. The free Metro paper is not fretting about low subscription income. They have different business models, and the same principle will apply on the Internet.”

The Atlantic: how to save the news