Surprise and delight is important

As humans we like to quantify our world as a way of making sense of it, and to cope with change. One way of quantifying our world is to break it into easily understandable stages of time. e.g; the Stone Age, the Ice Age, the Industrial Age, the Information Age, etc. We are currently living through a significant inflection point in history others have called the Digital Age.

In the Digital Age the combination of hardware, software and internet is seamless. The idea of structured information such as newspapers, encyclopaedia’s, and even retail stores, is now digitally deconstructed to the point where we can assemble the information we want, when we need it, in the format we prefer.  It’s now a two-way conversation with information about how my needs, wants and desires should be met, rather than a structured information broadcast accessed for a price.

As the Digital Age continues to develop this two-way dialogue it is now predicting what we want based on our past choices, and serving this up as our future needs and desires. Search algorithms are sending you advertising based on the topics you search for, along with responses based on your search history. I buy a book on Amazon and it immediately offers me similar books I might like. My music purchases are packaged for me into playlists, and then offers are made of similar music that I might like to purchase.

In the majority of cases this is a positive thing, making the myriad decisions we are faced with each day a little easier. Making the work of searching more about the simplicity of choosing. Even when it comes to choosing we are guided less by the element of discovery than by the recommendations of a “community”. No longer need we listen to a whole album of music just so we can enjoy the one or two hits. We can now see what everyone else is choosing and only listen to the most popular tracks.

Is the Digital Age in danger of killing off the thrill of discovery, and taking away the surprise and delight that has expanded our minds till now?

There’s no doubt that the Information Age was about broadcasting to the widest possible audience. In doing so there were parts of that broadcast that didn’t appeal to me as an individual. Now the Digital Age is working hard to personalise to the individual. It’s all about giving you choices similar to what you have displayed a desire for in the past. Which in turn is proven to deliver better purchasing responses.

What I believe we should be careful about is how this will limit us as people, when a large part of our lives is lived gazing in the rear vision mirror. We need to be careful how clever we become in serving up what we wanted in the past, because we can’t yet understand what we may want in the future.

I hesitate to quote Steve Jobs but he nailed it with this observation, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give it to them. By the time you get it built they’ll want something new.” That’s partly because we don’t want to know what’s coming all the time, even when we say that we do. We want to leave room to be surprised and delighted by the world and to discover new and exciting ways of living in the world and reacting with each other. We want to listen to that album and discover that track the “community” might not overly like, but we fall in love with.

We must find ways to ensure the Digital Age remains open to expanding our individual creativity and challenging our personal norms. As the exciting convergence of technology into our lives continues we must actively program randomness among the obviousness of our past wants and desires, so as to continue to surprise and delight ourselves.

We are at risk of being seduced by the Digital Age into letting it remove the unexpected things that help us grow as individuals. Let’s never forget to leave room for surprise and delight. Or we’ll be missing out on a lot of fun!



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