Sunday, March 25, 2012

Leaving Normal

I got my master's degree in a town called Normal and inevitably my school buddies and I joked about the name. Our journey away from Normal was sometimes just taking advantage of school breaks, but occasionally, “leaving Normal” was a code word for Timothy Leary-like modeling behavior. Well, I published my thesis and got my degree to embrace job, home, and family. But recently I've had the feeling that I'm leaving Normal again and it's not just me. You're leaving too.

This feeling is rooted in the technology advancements that I see emerging and exploited. Like my increasing dependence on my mobile phone, my use of Facebook to keep up with my family and friends, and my entertainment choices incorporating online games, like Scrabble, which I play with my brother who's often a continent away.

For a moment, think about the printing press, a technology that transformed humankind. Imagine a bunch of artisans standing around with Gutenberg, discussing his invention. The conversation might sound like this: "This certainly changes things. First off, we won't need all those monks to scribe books for us anymore." "You know, that parchment just won't work. Let's try this stuff from China. Paper." "These metal type pieces are so much more durable. The wooden ones kept breaking."

You get the idea. New technologies of paper, ink, and metal converged with the printing press and resulted in books. This meant that more people had access to knowledge. More people learned to read so they could take part in the sharing. The rise in literacy resulted in new industries and new trades like publishing and public libraries. In fact, the printing press is responsible for the era of mass communication, which supported the rise of the middle class and altered the structure of society through the circulation of information and ideas that crossed all types of boundaries, both physical and attitudinal.  

It feels like this type of transformation is happening all over again. Just like the impact of the printing press, the Internet and resulting technologies are changing the way we interact with each other to share knowledge and conduct business. Now we’ve come to expect (or is it assume?) that our media will fit in our pocket and keep us connected. 

Adam Broitman describes today’s brands as needing to deliver these seamless experiences and, in his recent article, A Marketer's Guide to Augmented Realityencourages marketers to rethink the consumer's touch points to stay ahead of their expectations and needs. "Consumers will begin to expect an on-demand brand presence in this new world of ubiquitous access. If your brand is not there to greet them, you may not be there when the time comes to make a purchase."  

What does this brand presence look like in the post-PC era? Greg Satell provided some insights last week in his article, The New Digital Battlefield. “The next frontier will be the creation of immersive experiences at home and in-store. Rapid advancement in base technologies, heavy investment by major players and serious interest from marketers are combining to transform the way we will experience media.”

As we shed this place and time what will we become? This metamorphosis lead by imagination and the potential of technology is cleverly suggested in this very cool video from Corning. One thing is for sure; we're definitely leaving Normal.