Marketers have their work cut out for them.
Our world has gone through some wrenching leaps forward – and sideways – in the past 10 years. Anyone interested in making things easy, charming and reassuring for consumers is facing an uphill battle. To paraphrase, they want the truth, but they can’t handle the truth.
I have a particular interest in tech, and its impact on would-be users. You don’t have to look hard to understand how increasingly rapid advances are rewiring our brains. Let’s start with a couple of macro-observations.
The Stupid Curve
In 1965, Intel founder Gordon Moore predicted the number of transistors on integrated circuits would double every two years, thanks to the exponential nature of technological innovation. Moore got it right. Our computing power (and the wonderful new products it enabled) has accelerated like a car, then a plane, then a rocket. Dream it today—buy it tomorrow.
The only problem is, so many people are dreaming of cool things, and so many people are making those dreams real, that we’re being flooded with amazing electronic tools, toys, and devices. And we have to learn how to use them.
As humans, we’re used to learning curves. You get a new device, bumble along as you figure out how to make the damn thing do what it’s supposed to, then start feeling smarter as you gain proficiency. Eventually, you reach the learning curve’s peak. You’re the king of the world and ready to take on another challenge.
But what if your device is rendered obsolete before you’re halfway along the learning curve, and you’re back to square one with the new version? Now multiply that by every device you own, every operating system you work with, and every app people say you simply can’t live without.
Suddenly one little learning curve becomes a tidal wave of curves that buries you. Too many improvements to absorb, too many updates to install, too many new ways to get the old job done. You’ve been sentenced to life as a newbie, feeling perennially stupid and incompetent. Worse still, you can’t stop the train and get off, for fear of being left behind in the Luddite dust. Which leads us to the next source of anxiety.
As technology author Nicholas Carr writes in his book The Shallows, “Psychologists refer to the information flowing into our working memory as our cognitive load. When the load exceeds our mind’s ability to process and store it, we’re unable to retain the information or to draw connections with other memories. We can’t translate the new material into conceptual knowledge. Our ability to learn suffers, and our understanding remains weak.” http://www.theshallowsbook.com/nicholascarr/Nicholas_Carrs_The_Shallows.html
What ensues is cognitive overload.
Essentially, cognitive overload decreases our capacity to learn new things. So being overloaded with technology updates hinders our ability to master those updates.
But decreased learning capacity and attention span aren’t the only symptoms. Cognitive overload affects our moods, our sleep, everything. It makes us sick.
Now the unsurprising news. We are in a state of cognitive overload nearly every day. As Tony Schwartz, workplace efficiency expert, writes, “Far and away the biggest work challenges most of us now face are cognitive overload and difficulty focusing on one thing at a time”. http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/05/17/faced-with-overload-a-need-to-find-focus/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0
Schwartz’s claim is backed by numbers. “Dying for Information,” a Reuters study of more than a thousand junior, middle, and senior managers in the United Kingdom, United States, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia (see http://old.cni.org/regconfs/1997/ukoln-content/repor~13.html) relays the following:
- Two-thirds of managers reported tension with work colleagues and loss of job satisfaction because of stress associated with information overload.
- One-third of managers (and 43 percent of senior managers) suffered from ill health brought on by stress associated with information overload.
- 62 percent of managers testified their personal relationships suffered as a direct result of information overload.
- 43 percent of managers thought important decisions were delayed, and their ability to make important decisions was affected, as a result of having too much information.
Now for the disturbing bit. This study was done in 1997. The good old days, before social media, 4G, apps. Anyone feeling cognitive overload today would look back at 1997 with nostalgia.
Of course, we’ll adapt to cognitive overload, just as we adapted in 1997. But what form will our adaptation take?
If current indicators bear out, we’ll become a more superficial, reactive, frazzled population. We’ll blink, not think.
Combine this with our greater voyeuristic, narcissistic tendencies, and what do you have? A world of five-year-olds with too much sugar in them.
Heck, there may be an app to help us get past this. To smooth out the learning curves, and calm our misfiring synapses.
But are you going to ask consumers to take the time to figure it out?
Excerpt from ‘Didn’t See It Coming’, Marc Stoiber’s new book. http://www.amazon.com/Didnt-See-Coming-Marc-Stoiber/dp/1505389003/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421798107&sr=8-1&keywords=marc+stoiber
Marc Stoiber is a brand consultant, entrepreneur, and writer. He knows how to connect dots, simplify, and add a creative twist to the most mundane things in life. Even insurance and diet bars.
He has worked in the corner office, the basement, and at coffee shops around the world. His work – even the legitimate stuff clients paid for – has been recognized by virtually every international industry award for advertising and design.
Marc writes on brand innovation for Huffington Post, Fast Company, GreenBiz and Sustainable Life Media. He also speaks on the subject from coast to coast, and has been featured at TEDx.
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