Sophie Maxwell: The Big Switch-Off – Why Brands Need to Create New Ways to Connect

Brands are now supporting our need to schedule time for disconnection-creating space for significant moments, reconnecting us with creative contemplation and ensuring our well-being.

It is increasingly hard to switch off from a world that is always on. Our new and infinitely connected world has enabled us to exercise endless choice. And keen to optimize every aspect of our lifestyle, we have bought into the fact that the digital and the physical need to work in synergy. But now, there is a growing realization that we are struggling to find the head space for it all. As a result, we are seeking to restore some sort of balance – in terms of how we connect with each other and with our surroundings – by taking shelter, slowing down and switching off.

It may seem counter-intuitive but we are looking to brands to guide us. We want brands to help us schedule time for contemplation, create new space for significant moments and connect with us in more creatively controlled ways. To remind us of the importance of being present in the moment, some brands are prioritizing the consumer (rather than stimulation and active engagement) and have already begun to create ways for us to wind down.

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Selfridges highly publicized “No-Noise” campaign – featuring “The Quiet Shop,” the “Silence Room” and window-display art installations depicting space and time – was opened for a second year, reinforcing both the interest in this type of initiative and the status of this behemoth brand as not just a quality retailer but as a leading and forward-facing cultural icon.

Beyond brands, celebrities such as UK rapper Professor Green are abandoning Twitter to use the time to ‘visit an art gallery or meet a friend’ with a similar sentiment driving a new campaign to “unfriend” Facebook. “The 99 days of freedom” social experiment aims to show a rise in happiness levels as users disengage with Facebook to focus on real-time pursuits rather than just living their lives online. Ironically, we are also starting to use the very systems that overloaded us to switch off. Life-logging software, like RescueTime, tracks and shows how you’re spending your time and then forces you offline at certain times of the day. On a different tangent, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology undertook a project called “Inside Out: Reflecting on Your Inner State” to measure users’ skin temperature and conductivity to map their happy and stressful moments during the day.

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The promotion of time and space, self-awareness and mindfulness is a smart tactic in managing our well-being. But, we are still waiting for a brand to truly deliver a potent dose of what we really need – a move away from re-packaging existing sources and clever semantics – to create a totally new definition that enforces our reconnection to ourselves and those around us. It is now about finding new ways to better curate and refine systems so that they provide us with a heightened sense of equilibrium and control.

Last year, Google’s Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil, speaking at the Global Futures 2045 International Congress in New York, talked about a future where the biological parts of our body will be replaced with mechanical parts as early as 2100, stating, “We’re going to become increasingly non-biological to the point where the non-biological part dominates and the biological part is not important any more.” In a technique called ‘Singularity’ the human race will be able to upload their entire minds to become digitally immortal. By expanding the scope of our intelligence a billion-fold we would find ourselves at a point where overload is no longer an issue.

However, this type of advancement is still an estimated 30 years away. Today, we have to continue to navigate an increasingly connected, yet disconnected, world. And to support the advent and transition of new technologies, and the changes they create for human life, brands need to apply creative thinking to the new needs that are arising as a result. By driving more intuitive and empathetic design across multiple platforms we will help consumers enable and build their world for tomorrow while not compromising their wellbeing today. And hopefully allow them to hang onto their humanity – at least for now…

Sophie Maxwell, Futures Director, Pearlfisher
sophie@pearlfisher.com
The Pearlfisher Futures Program will launch its latest global study – Connect Mode – at an event in New York on 06 November, followed by a London event on 13 November. For further details please visit http://www.pearlfisher.com/live/futures

Images: James Barnett

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