The Blog

Understanding the Yin and Yang of Our Technology-Driven Society

It's not inaccurate to say that while British consumers have fallen head-over-heels in love with technology, they also fear what it is doing to them... consumer technologies often create contrary forces between positive and negative; a sort of Yin-Yang in our relationship with them.

Connected technology in all its increasingly diverse forms continues to change our lives profoundly in obvious ways. We can know more, buy more, navigate more easily, share our thoughts, organise our lives and manage decisions far more effectively and more quickly than ten or twenty years ago.

But beyond the obvious benefits, how do we feel about all this connected stuff that's enfolding our lives in an ever-closer embrace?

Over the last year OMD UK has been looking at British society through our Future of Britain study and in particular, we have looked at the micro-social and behavioural impacts of mobile connected technology.

For one of our studies, we lived with 200 Britons for 10 days via their mobile phones, interviewing our participants and giving them up to fifty different tasks to reveal an aspect of their lives. We've spent time dissecting the findings and have detected a series of, at times, contradictory themes or implications of technology use, which are more subtle than simply 'good' or 'bad'.

It's not inaccurate to say that while British consumers have fallen head-over-heels in love with technology, they also fear what it is doing to them and those fears stretch beyond insecurity about privacy that the Edward Snowden case has raised, for example. We found that consumer technologies often create contrary forces between positive and negative; a sort of Yin-Yang in our relationship with them.

On the "Yang" side, we see people of all sorts becoming more independent and capable of achieving more in their daily lives. This independence is also becoming almost entirely age neutral - we found over 60s just as immersed in and opinionated about technology as twenty-somethings.

So technology is breaking down societal barriers, but other rules and conventions are being eroded too. For example, we witnessed an increasing interest in using technology to "do it yourself". Technology has enabled the DIY ethic to transcend painting and decorating and influence the way we approach projects of all kinds. On one level, for example, open-source technology from software to hard ware (think Raspberry Pi) is enabling professionals and amateurs alike to create new products or to feed hobbies and fun activities.

On another level, technology is enabling us to by-pass suppliers or source participants in activities differently; crowd-sourcing is reinventing everything from entire business sectors to country fetes and funerals for World War 2 veterans. In the main these are perhaps forces for good, but they can also be very disruptive. Think AirbNb and the hotel industry.

Another trend with contrary aspects flows from our ability to access information instantly and do more things faster, which is, in turn, changing expectations. It is no longer enough simply to access a service from one point or channel, in one way. Instead, we expect to be able to reach services or resources seamlessly through many channels and, critically, this can mean through multiple brands or suppliers.

Nor do we want to access content or information in traditional linear ways. We want these things accessible in pieces when and where it suits us. This trend towards "frictionless" access has huge implications for business and organisations used to close guardianship of customer relationships.

While technology is making us more independent, our studies highlighted a growing fear - the "Yin" side of our relationship with technology; we are beginning to notice how reliant we are on it. We are beginning to ask whether we should be able to cope without it and whether it is entirely healthy. Some of us are already taking steps to detox periodically from our digital habits.

Another spin-off concern we noticed developing from the fear of over-reliance, is the fear of a loss of serendipity or self-discovery in our lives. Technology is making our lives hyper-convenient. Brands are striving to make purchasing and using digital products easier and faster and we increasingly expect this to be so. But the counter point to this convenience is laziness to the extent where one swipe or click too many can be the difference between us bothering to continue with something or not.

In parallel to the potential for laziness, we noticed that continuous instant access to information or product choice, while being a powerful democratising force, was also re-wiring our brains to think and act in the short-term. Experiences and choices that require more thought or planning may be overlooked.

The final significant trend we identified that is creating contrary benefits, pressures and concerns is the "curation" of our lives. The European Union's recent ruling that Google must allow people the right "to be forgotten" is indicative of our conflicted relationship with our online records whether social, financial or retail, etc.

We may love social media as a means to talk and share, but we're uneasy about brands getting too close to us and our data. We fear a loss of control. The ambiguity of the impact of technology is something that should be taken seriously, as a deeper understanding of its implications for society will surely lead to better ways for brands and organisations to leverage technology and build better, lasting relationships with customers or stakeholders.