Death To Screens!

Everywhere you go people are staring at screens. I’m just as bad. In line at Starbucks- escape to the tiny screen! Taking a walk- let's check Facebook! Pulling up to a stoplight- save me from boredom oh tiny screen! We are getting further and further away from full sensory experiences and being pulled deeper and deeper into increasingly thin experiences via screens. 

Why do I think screen experiences are thin? They barely engage our senses. We use our hands and eyes and maybe our ears but the medium itself (the screen) is hardly remarkable. This is a bigger problem than you might think.

Memories feed off of physical and emotional markers. Simply put, we don’t remember many digital experiences very well. Study after study has shown this. You are more likely to remember content from a paperback than a Kindle. The physical anchor of that paperback creates stronger memories. Same with emotion. Memories that have stronger emotions connected to them are more likely to stick.

This is why digital communication sucks- conference calls, email, etc. They all strip out emotion- the undertones in our voices, the body language, the physicality of a letter- all gone with most of these communications. People just don’t remember stuff when their senses aren't fully engaged. They aren't fully present- not even to mention they are probably multi-tasking.

I long for a day when we no longer have to stare at screens all day to do meaningful work. A musician buddy of mine, Vess Ruhtenberg, said to me recently- “I don’t think I would have started recording if I’d gone to a studio and everyone was starting at screens. What appealed to me was how studios looked like the deck of the Starship Enterprise”. I totally get that. There are many beautiful, wonderful things that technology has brought up but the screen is proving to be one of my least favorite. I’m hoping that the lords of tech will help us get beyond the screen and bring rich, human interaction back to technology as it existed pre-screens.

Yes, I totally get the irony that this post was written and read entirely on a screen. I wanted to send you all a hand written letter but... and yes, I also know you will probably not remember any of this. Damn screens!

Some research and references for this rant:

Power Cues (all about how we communicate)
Scientific American article about memory retention screens vs paper


The Stuff of Experiences

When I was in the auction and antique business we had a saying- “it’s all about the stuff”. And it was true. If you had great “stuff” people would show up in at a barn in the middle of nowhere to buy it. And this is still true in many ways. The best art, antiques, furniture, etc, still gets a premium price but the rest of it is increasingly just “stuff” and sells for whatever it sells for, there is less and less of a floor for antiques and collectibles. 

This is not an isolated trend. Objects are transitioning from destination to vessel. Older generations amassed collections of “mint in box” objects- dolls, pottery, etc. But more recent generations collect experiences- stories, photos, videos, etc. Before, a collector's quest was a complete collection of objects (Hummel figurines, for instance), now it is a complete set of experiences (a fully realized persona/story). 

This is not to say all physical objects have lost their relevance, it’s just that their role is changing. They are increasingly playing a supporting role to experiences. 

As we have begun to collect experiences the objects accumulate meaning by association. That experience, or story, ties itself to the physical object and deepens that object's meaning in our lives. It goes from being anonymous to personal. To gather this meaning the object must color and add to the experience in some way.

Consider our phones, those marvelous little things that follow with us wherever we go. A phone only has value as the device which enables and documents experiences. We understand that we can quickly backup and reload the data on another device. In many ways the data is more real to us than the device. The device itself has passing relevance. It adds very little color to our experiences. It's no surprise that very few people collect digital devices, mostly we recycle them. 

So where does this leave us? Value is shifting from stuff to experiences, from collecting items to collecting memories. The objects that remain in our lives will mostly fall into two categories- they will fill a very basic human need or they will be tied to an experience. Toilets or totems. “Stuff" that falls in-between risks obsolescence. So if you want to bring more objects into this world I suggest you find ways to tie them to compelling experiences.