Humanise or ostracise

Initiative Melbourne client digital manager, Luke Maher
By Initiative Melbourne client digital manager, Luke Maher | 16 February 2017
Luke Maher

A typical day begins with checking my phone five seconds after waking up. Like one in four Australians I check my Facebook first – satisfying my need for a mix of actual news and hilarious memes all at once. I jump on the tram and chuck Spotify on to escape talking to anyone and then spend the majority of my time at work online. In the evening, I decide to jump off my devices for the first time in the day. Hooray! I hang with friends, share experiences and learn. But the funny thing is, more and more I am starting to do these things online too.

Am I the only one? Apparently not – with Ernst and Young data showing the average Australian spends at least 40% of their day online. Some of us would literally spend more time living in a digital world than we do living in the real one. According to Alysha Naples, former human experience designer at Magic Leap. “We’re actually living a split existence”. She’s right about that.

Last week at Pause Festival in Melbourne, Naples’ keynote speech alluded to this shift. She highlighted that the next wave of technology is going to push us further into the digital world and away from the real one. From artificial intelligence with IBM Watson and now the latest in Virtual Reality getting mainstream attention through Oculus Rift (owned by Facebook) – these technologies will bring about further consumption online for consumers. We must ask ourselves – is this the beginning of a social problem?

It depends which side of the fence you sit on. The doomsayers would argue that the technology is increasingly taking over our lives. Others would argue that technology is merely a mechanism that enhances our life experiences. But taking a step back, is the technology actually enhancing the experience, or is it really detracting from what is true human connection. In the not so distant future, when we are all hanging out with friends through our VR headsets – will it be just as a fulfilling experience online as the ‘real’ thing? Or are we actually just sitting all alone in a dark room with a headset on – isolating ourselves from what’s actually going on outside in the real world.

A pivotal time in my life where I think of true human connection was travelling solo around the world. The social skills created from chatting to strangers in a bar, to exploring an unknown and beautiful city was something I’d never experienced before. Why was this such an important moment for me? It was because the experience was real, and in it was in the real world. Even though I was technically travelling alone, I didn’t feel alone at all. This is human connection. I now wonder if the technology we are creating will change the dynamic of experiences like this, at our detriment.

A key takeout from Naples’ keynote at Pause was that the time is now for brands, tech providers and startups to really assess whether their product can truly provide human connection within it, and not act as a driver of isolation for people and society. This is important not just for the generation of today, but for future generations to come.

Naples is well-versed on the subject through her experience at Magic Leap. For those unaware, Magic Leap is one of the most secretive tech companies in the world – where it is trying to bring Mixed Reality to the real world. Mixed Reality is the latest mind-bending technology that combines the best of virtual reality with augmented reality – overlaying virtual objects onto the real world once you put the headset on. Crazy right? It has received over 1 billon dollars in funding, with the likes of Google jumping on board before a prototype was even created. And yet Magic Leap is going through the same dilemma that many tech companies are facing, which is how they can embed and establish true human connection within their product or service – and not isolate people from the real world even further.

Artificial intelligence, Virtual Reality and now Mixed Reality aren’t going away. Many of these technological advancements will truly lead to greater human connection. The problem is, many will not.

By Initiative Melbourne client digital manager, Luke Maher

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