Friday, December 17, 2010

Can We Cut the Cord on Our Wireless Phones?

I often jokingly tell people that my BlackBerry is my second brain and losing it would be like losing my mind. Now I know it is no joke. And I am not alone.

“My Device, Myself,” is the caption beneath a photograph in a New York Times article by Damon Darlin, entitled, “Digital Devices Can Become Objects of Affection.”
According to Darlin, we love our devices because they make us better and smarter. I know that this is the case with me. Once, I even pulled out my BlackBerry in the midst of an interview to get the name of a mutual acquaintance (PS: don’t try this, I didn’t get the job. I think they were looking for someone whose primary brain worked better.) According to the article, people literally, “grieve when they lose a personal electronic device.”
This “device as self” phenomenon isn’t some little wave cresting but a full-blown tsunami. In fact, one of the key lessons that NYT Tech writer David Pogue, imparts in his recent round-up article, “The Lessons of 10 Years of Talking Tech,” is that “Some people’s gadgets determine their self-esteem.” He adds, “You can’t use the word “Apple,” “Microsoft” or “Google” in a sentence these days without stirring up emotion.”
Given the New York Times source, I might be tempted to think this attachment to devices is merely a bicoastal trend. But it is not just the province of the MIT students and tech workers I see glued to their mobile screens when I visit Extrovertic’s new Cambridge office. This “Tech as Self” trend is now deeply woven into the fabric of the American psyche.

Case in point: my recent visit to Milwaukee for the “International City/County Managers Association” annual conference-planning meeting (I know, I know, my life is really too glamorous, I really need to join FourSquare so people can track me).

As an icebreaker at the conference, city managers from around the country were asked to “pick something in your hotel room that says something special about you.” About 50% of the respondents picked a personal digital device. Comments ran something like, “my iPod, which I use when I go running,” “my iPhone, which has pictures of my kids,” and, “my BlackBerry because I can use it to reach anybody, anytime.”

And these weren’t typical coastal hipsters we are talking about. Most of the participants were men in their 40s, from cities that make Milwaukee, Wisconsin seem like a mega metropolis: Brentwood, Tennessee; Coon Rapids, Minnesota; and Sequin, Texas.

The point is tech is defining and intensely personal – and therefore of great interest to marketers as seen by the mushrooming numbers of them lining up for mobile device healthcare conferences. After all, healthcare is intensely personal too. It makes perfect sense to think about sending health messages via mobile devices. However, as we move into this new mobile era, we should remember we are entering someone’s personal space.

Otherwise, we will suffer the fate of Aaron, the “close talker” from the classic Seinfeld episode: the very people we are trying to attract will back away.

Or worse yet, give you a social media slap in the face a la “Motrin Moms.” 

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