The March of Progress
Humans are driven toward progress, toward changing our environment, and the smart home will simplify our domestic lives, like the vacuum cleaner and the light bulb did about a century ago. We won’t have to think about turning on the lights, preheating the oven, or minding our shopping list, and that will free up our time. Past reductions in domestic workload had profound effects on society. What social changes will the smart home engender? The smart home is inevitable. It is possible, and since it is, it will happen. It just won’t be next week. The experts think the smart home is around a decade into the future. Today’s point products, each controlled by it’s own app or interface will soon start to work together in little clumps, connected by third party software. Eventually, standards will develop or default technologies will emerge. Then the smart home will be plug-and-play, and that’s the point at which real mass adoption will occur. The user experience will be simple and attractive, just like a smartphone and the home will go from being smart to being conscious. A conscious home can incorporate the data from the whole sensor net surrounding you, learning to react to your behavior and patterns in context. Just imagine all the data that will throw off.
It’s ok to love data, but we’re loving it a little too much. We’ve got campaign and marketing data, social listening, and now here comes a buffet of biometric and intimate data from wearables, connected devices and cars, smarter homes and everything else that has an input and an output. We’ll all need to loosen our belts a notch or two, but real infobesity is bad for your corporate health. Stop and think about what kind of data you really need based on the goals you—and your marketers, IT pros, analysts, and product managers—want to achieve.
We need to be conscious of more than just the quantity of data we ingest. We will soon need to be quite sensitive to what we do with it. It’s one thing to send the wrong message to someone—the 50 year old male who gets a tampon ad on his fantasy baseball site is just going to ignore your message with no harm done. But just as the consequences of marketing missteps are amplified in social, the fallout from data disasters will become toxic. Mishandling a customer’s web data is bad; mishandling their intimate personal and biometric data is egregious. Consumers resent having to think about data privacy, but marketers, manufacturers, and consumers need to come to a consensus on what is an appropriate level of data sharing. Wall it off too much and the real promise of a connected life will always remain a promise. Open it up to much, and your house may turn into Clippy on acid: “According to your smart wristband, you’re getting busy. Would you like to sample the greatest hits of Barry White?”
Investments Gone Wild
We can learn a thing or two from the venture capitalist culture. Not every investment that a VC makes will pan out. Companies fail, markets are smaller than anticipated, founders screw up. So what makes a successful investment? Yoav Tzruya of Jerusalem Venture Partners believes that it’s as basic as this: a successful investment is an investment in differentiated technology that is sustainable in the long run. Whenever Tzruya found himself with a failed investment, he found that even though the startup may have shown initial traction in the marketplace, he could not explain why. We should be wary of the same phenomenon. We should ask ourselves Tzruya’s question. Why will your startup, your product or your brand be better than the competition—now and in the future? And if you can’t answer that, figure it out or pack your bags and go home.
Here’s another question: Why is rampant sexism still ok at CES? Doc Brown reappeared for a promotion at Gibson, but did the rest of CES get sent with Marty back to 1955? The people walking the show floor are still overwhelmingly male—that’s a problem right there, but it is larger than just CES itself—and the exhibitors pander to them with sex. A phone case manufacturer gave away bags decorated with a nude female silhouette and the words, “Don’t let your phone go naked.” A camera maker which will go nameless surrounded a trophy car with pouty, alluring models just so that convention goers could try out the camera. There was a good crowd of guys snapping photos. It may have worked, but was it right? Booth after booth was staffed by models in coordinated, revealing outfits ostensibly there to demonstrate the product. Few of them knew much about the products; they were there as part of the booth’s decoration. The problem didn’t vanish once you walked out the doors of the exhibit hall. Many of the panels had only one woman on them, often sitting in the center, and just as often getting ignored or even talked over. A cab driver heading over to the show on opening day brought it all into focus with one line, “Man, CES must be crazy. It’s the only show where they have to import strippers from LA.”