Now that we carry online connectivity with us everywhere in our pocket, can’t we be said to be ‘online’ all the time?
From Facebook photo books to vinyl records, David Mattin writes that many still find more than novelty in physical media
The average Web user in the US spends 29 hours a month online, according to the media research company Nielsen. If you’re a “worker” and spend all day at work sitting in front of a screen, that figure sounds impossibly low. Indeed, between work, home and our smartphones, some of us might feel that we spend most of our waking lives online – or even that it’s becoming increasingly hard to decide what online means anymore. Now we carry online connectivity with us everywhere in our pocket, can’t we be said to be online all the time?
The digital space has woven its way through our lives like no other technology in history. The consequences have been vast. But one recent, counter-intuitive result? As online living becomes the norm for many of us, we’re coming to rediscover, cherish and even privilege the analogue world, and the joys of the physical.
You can see the resurgence of the physical in, for example, growing interest in vinyl records, and a recent spate of start-ups hoping to capitalise on that. Of course, fetishisation of vinyl is nothing new: it dates back to the advent of the CD. But recently it’s taken on a new intensity among Millennials, who aren’t even old enough to remember vinyl first time around. In 2012, vinyl sales increased 19 per cent over the previous year and this year Justin Timberlake released his new album 20/20 Experience on vinyl. Beck went one step further, releasing his album Song Reader as a box set of sheet music.
Meanwhile, start-ups are finding new ways of fuelling and serving the renaissance in analogue by helping users to create physical incarnations on their digital activities. Or there’s PastBook, a service that allows users to create a physical book from one year’s worth of content from their Facebook account: the service sucks in content and creates a PDF, which can be printed and placed on the coffee table to browse at your (analogue) leisure.
Big online brands are also recognising the value of pushing into the physical world. In June, eBay placed four “shoppable windows” around New York City: touch screens that displayed a selection of products that could be purchased and delivered to a specified address. Sure, using a touch-screen is still a digital experience but one that eBay cleverly wove around the offline, analogue experience of a high-street shopping trip.
Really, the analogue revival is a manifestation of basic human characteristics. Yes, we’re addicted to our devices and the endless information and connection they allow. But we’re hard-wired to respond to the physical, to objects we can see, touch or hold in our hands, and our immersion in the online space will never change that. Over the coming years, though, the boundaries between online and offline will blur as everyday physical objects – your kettle, your car – become drawn into the network and start to communicate with you and with each other – digitally. That “internet of things” will render the “physical” and the “digital” inseparable from one another, and could leave the next generation to wonder what the phrase “going online” ever meant, anyway.
David Mattin is the lead strategist at trendwatching.com