“Surprise and delight” is important.

As humans we like to quantify our world as a way of making sense of it and coping with change. One way of quantifying our world is to break it into easily understandable stages of time. To wit; the Stone Age, the Ice Age, the Industrial age, the Information age, etc. We are currently at a significant inflection point in history for how we relate to our world and one that I am not the first person to call, the Digital age.

In the Digital age the combination of hardware, software and the internet has become seamless. The idea of packaged information such as newspapers, encyclopaedia’s, and retail stores, is deconstructed to the point where the power of that hardware/software/internet combination allows us to assemble the information we want, when we need it, in the format we prefer.  It’s now a two-way conversation with information services about how my needs, wants and desires as a consumer should be met, rather than a information broadcast I access 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 to us as our future needs and desires. Search algorithms are sending you advertising based on the topics you search for, and search responses are based on your search history. I buy a book on Amazon and it immediately offers me similar books from the same genre. My music purchases are packaged for me into playlists I might like and then offers are made of other music similar in style 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 that little bit easier, and taking away the work of searching to be replaced merely with the prospect of choosing. Even when it comes to making choices we are guided not by our own element of discovery but by the recommendations of the greater community. No longer need we listen to a whole album of music just to enjoy the hits. We can see what everyone else is choosing and just go with that.

However, is the Digital age in danger of killing off the thrill of discovery and the element of “surprise and delight” that has expanded our minds as humans up till now?

There’s no doubt that the information age was about broadcasting to the widest possible audience and in doing so there were parts of that broadcast that didn’t appeal to me as an individual. Now the digital age is breaking its back to narrowcast to a single individual. Giving you the preferences you have displayed a desire for in the past.

What we should be careful about is how this will limit us as people, when a large part of our lives is lived by looking 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 said it well when he said, “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 literally don’t want to know what’s coming all the time. 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 that the majority might not listen to, but we fall in love with.

We must ensure the Digital age remains open to creativity, and as the fabulous convergence of technology into our lives marches on we must actively program randomness among the obviousness of our stated wants and desires, so as to continue to surprise and delight ourselves. We are at risk of being seduced by the ease of the Digital age into letting it degrade the very unexpected things that help us grow as individuals.

Lets dive into the Digital era that promises so much, and always leave room for discovery.


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