Are we misusing the word ‘digital’? It seems like every single “modernized” company, ultra-hip startup, re-branded brand, attention-starved tech blog, and “forward-thinking” agency peppers their content with ‘digital’ and ‘digitalization.’ If you ask 100 people what they think digital is, they will give you 100 different answers. One person might say simply computers and the internet, another person might say anything with a button-covered interface. Some might mention social media, and still, others would jump straight to AR/VR. After sifting through these responses, probably the broadest definition would look something like this: ‘digital’ is artificial mimicking physical.
Let’s look at that statement from the other side: our five senses are an operating system. We use it to decode the physical world around us. ‘Digital’ classically refers to an artificial world parallel to that. But here’s what makes ‘digital’ so hard to define: we’re moving towards a world where digital systems are thoroughly embedded in the physical world. In our accessories, clothes, cars, offices, homes, and cities. ‘Digital’ is quickly becoming an imperceptible fabric integrated into our lives; an engine that creates experiences that involve our real-world bodies, feelings, emotions, actions, and reactions. ‘Digital’ is becoming ‘real’. Say hello to the cognitive revolution.
Sixth Sense Devices
Our devices will become part of us. It sounds like we’re talking bionic humans, but let’s all hold our breath and imagine this: In the future, sensors will be merged seamlessly with our senses and our gestures. That means taking pictures with our hands, activating commands by voice, and accessing the internet with our eyes. Through AR, our bodies will function as a remote control of the entire world around us. Every surface will be a screen: walls, floors, ceilings, walkways— everything will communicate with us, and information will be available anywhere in real-time. It might even mean the extinction of desktop and mobile screens.
Keys to (Digital) Success
And it definitely would mean stimuli overload. Maybe something like this video of an imagined AR future. All the touch points of digital communication would create a psychologically numb environment. That’s why using AI and big data to create well-integrated interfaces will be key— this tech offers a high-powered lens for sensing and responding to individual behavior. UX designers will become an integral part of the new world, designing intuitively in a way that accommodates all necessary touch points. Designers will have to learn how to bring the digital into the “physical”.
We’re Living in a Material World
The invention of the 3D printer is as revolutionary as the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press. Additive manufacturing is the tool that will power the cognitive revolution: the old physical molds of past industry are being replaced with digital, 3D-printable files. As we incorporate this into production, every object around us will be customizable—a democratization of our commodities.
Another Fading Term
We’re building a cognitive ecosystem. Brands will have to increasingly appeal to the five senses, creating content that will operate digitally but will be experienced physically. The advertising industry will evolve to the point where the smartest digital-players will create much more than websites, banners, and apps. Future advertising agencies will create holistic experiences, designing “smart interactions” between objects, tools, messages, and people. Tech will be everywhere. Its ubiquity means the word ‘digital’ is well on it’s way to being, well… obsolete.