Have consumers hit technology saturation?

How many times in the run of a day do you interact with some form of digital technology such as a smartphone or smartwatch, car screens, voice controlled devices like Alexa, HomePod or Google Home, tablet, laptop, PC? Probably a lot more than you realize. Then there’s all the things you do on those various devices; work, entertainment, shopping, socializing.

Pundits and analysts claim this is a TechLash because people are disgusted with the Tech Giants running roughshod over our privacy, use of personal data and messing with our behaviours and dopamine addiction. In part, this is true. But, based on years of researching social media and technology use, I don’t think that’s the whole story. It’s a trifecta. Growing frustration with being manipulated, exhaustion because of technology overuse during the pandemic and perhaps more than the first two, is placement in our lives; saturation.

Manipulation

While Meta (Facebook) and the media seem to be in some mutual hallucination over the metaverse, the general public are largely rolling their eyes, don’t really understand it and are skeptical at best of companies like Meta and other Tech Giants driving it. They’re smart enough to see ahead and what they see is being treated even more as products themselves and just more advertising channels. In part, they are right. Companies don’t roll out new technologies or products if they can’t see a profit to be made. Nothing wrong with that at all. It’s capitalism at work and it’s good. Except when the companies misbehave and care more for shareholder value than customers. Consumers are feeling manipulated. They are not amused.

Exhaustion

As computing devices from smartphones to laptops became cheaper, they became ubiquitous. The line between personal and work devices became blurred, indistinguishable. Then the pandemic had many working from home. All day in front of a screen. Consumer IoT devices were prevalent at the marquee trade show for consumer tech, CES, this year. Most are transitional technologies, marginal improvements in stuff.

Saturation

This is where it really comes into play. Technology saturation. There’s just so much stuff. Smartphones, tablets and laptops have plateaued and we see only incremental improvements in speed, storage and screens. Most IoT (Internet-of-Things) devices don’t add significant value to our everyday lives. And don’t try an automated door lock on a house in a Canadian winter. Manual keys still rule in sub-zero temperatures. Tales abound of “smart” thermostats that end up increasing energy costs, not reducing them. How many smartphones does it take to change a smart lightbulb?

Placing Technology in our Lives

Technology has, for hundreds of thousands of years, from bone tools to smartphones, played a role in human social development. A process called technogenesis. Until the first Industrial Revolution enabled mass manufacturing of all kinds of tools, we were fairly conservative in their use. It took a lot of energy and time to make tools. It still does in many cases, but it is largely automated and someone else is doing it for us.

Humans adopt tools when they find uses for them. Either giving us greater comfort, making a job faster and easier or giving us pleasure. Sometimes, we make choices based on aesthetics and a desire for beauty in our daily lives on top of getting a job done. But many digital tools we buy to get a job done.

This is where, in recent research projects into IoT and related devices, I’ve seen opinions moving with technology. There’s just only so much technology people want in their lives. And they’re also still trying to figure out where and how it adds value.

Opportunities

So where does this leave us? A massive crash in sales of IoT devices and other technologies? Nope. Devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops will stay in consumer hands longer, the data is already showing this. IoT adoption will remain slow in the consumer market, but will grow in industrial applications. The big opportunity is in software, from mobile apps to desktop to browser-based. We’ve been rushing down a wild and crazy road of gadgets everywhere. Now it’s software’s time to prove its value. And before you think “metaverse”, it doesn’t exist. Yet. Web3 is just a raging argument for now.

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