The rapid change in mobile capabilities and use presents challenges for everyone with a stake in understanding how and why people use mobile devices and how they think about them. Tech and media design is a chess game, although few approach it that way. Human behavior is not driven by the usability or sexiness of any technology beyond first glance (and often not even then). Successful technologies deliver something of value, although not always tangible.
Many design and messaging decisions have unintended consequences—our speculation and concerns about the probable uses of the Facebook dislike button is a case in point. Developers and designers who don’t consider the audience’s “moves,” those behavioral fundamentals, from goals to schema, often find themselves surprised. Sometimes it’s a good surprise and sometimes it’s not. A product, app or message can be hijacked and used in completely new and unintended ways.
The people who feel compelled to institute rules, regulations and best practices without understanding media psychology find themselves trying to control yesterday’s technology with today’s rules. The rearview mirror is not a good source for making forward-looking change, much less being ahead of the curve. It results in processes that are stuck, like a fly in amber, totally missing the point, wasting resources, and stifling progress.
The impact of technology is not about the tools; it is about the behaviors that the tools facilitate. Mobile creates opportunities, but it is human goals and motivations that drive solutions. Successful development and guidelines come from identifying the fundamentals, not the current use of a specific technology. When we look at the impact of mobile devices on young people, we rarely ask about the higher goals, or even think about it in the context of the skills, experiences, and knowledge they will need in order to succeed in their world (not ours).
Things change quickly. Parents, educators, developers, marketers and officials have to step outside their own hubris and look with fresh eyes to be effective problem solvers in our app-a-minutes world. Spreadsheets don’t hold a candle to understanding media psychology.
Nearly three years ago, I wrote about fundamental trends I saw in the mobile ecosystem. The mobile devices have changed; the psychology driving those fundamentals has not.
- The distinction between online and offline is no longer relevant. Mobile technologies and transmedia content will continue to close the gap and blur the boundaries between on and offline worlds. These aren’t separate places. Technology is a bridge. Our shifting perceptions of mobile as an extension of self, not a separate appliance, will continue to minimize this legacy distinction.
- In an information-rich environment, the premium is helping people curate, filter and sort without taking away choice and control. The price for trust is transparency. In the same way that people have become suspicious of advertisers, marketers and politicians, they will become increasingly aware of the ability of data gathering and manipulation, demanding transparency in like like recommender systems and search algorithms.
- Mobile is personal. In spite of increasing global awareness, mobile makes things personal. Mobile devices support our basic human needs to connect, feel competent and control our environments. Each succeeding generation will have an increased expectation of agency. The quantified self will be the new normal with an increased emphasis on personalization and increasing drive toward manifestation of control. It doesn’t matter how many other devices and screens are in the game, mobile devices set a new standard. This will impact everything from work and entertainment to civic engagement.
- Global visibility creates empathy. Thanks to media, we see more. We see people suffering and we see the Wizard behind the curtain. The political polarization is a reaction to distrust with the status quo that comes from this increased visibility, not the ability to cleve to ‘birds of a feather.’ We are hearing disenchantment given voice with, for the first time, expectations of being heard. The combination of individual and collective agency and global awareness will increase all kinds of society-wide pressures, including a mounting push for corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship. Smart businesses will recognize their role as citizens, not just places that hire people and sell stuff. Smart marketers will push for emphasizing ‘doing good to do well.’
- Peer-to-peer culture flattens hierarchies and raises the bar for transparency and authenticity. This trend will put more pressure on governments, institutions, organizations and individuals to behave honestly and not just have a human face, but to actually BE decent human beings. This has significant implications for business leadership and organizational structures. All those managers complaining because Millennials want to collaborate and voice opinions better get used to it. Many organizations will also have to woman-up, design clear goals and implement accountability systems at all levels.
- Our connection with others and our sense that we have control of our own lives and our environments are the primary drivers of human behavior. People are experience-loyal, not device- or brand-loyal. Technologies that recede and that put the focus on human goals will be most successful. Apple doesn’t sell technology. Apple sells experience, identity and affiliation. Old business models with the one-to-many mindset, don’t work. Many institutions, such as education and government, haven’t figured out this applies to them, too.