Apple, the computer company, unveiled new Nano music players this week that double as video cams, and Slate asked the obvious question: why do little devices keep getting so damned complex? Turns out companies add features to defend higher prices, and consumers keep paying because they love features (despite the occasional odd industry reset to lower-quality MP3 formats or cheap Flip cameras). Even markets expect advances; investors are so calloused by Apple’s yearly leaps they dinged Apple stock this week, apparently disappointed the thumbnail-size music players only capture film images and do not yet levitate.
So: What happens if you play technology all the way forward?
When lenses and storage and GPS and wireless internet fall to the Andersonian price of zero, every device — your watch, earrings, wedding ring — will have video broadcasting capabilities. Video we said, not text. Psychologists debate whether 93% of communication is non-verbal, but it’s at least more than half; aeons of seeking high-quality mates while avoiding tigers have taught people to see the world with eyes. So the final pinnacle device of communication, a nanochip that records and shares the world in 3-D from your retina to our minds, will free our most human needs — to communicate visually, record the environment, share thoughts, and reach all the world. Like the lit highways radiating out from cities and small towns at night, our communication streams will spread from anywhere to everywhere.
The impact on business communications will be huge. Advertising, for instance, cannot possibly intercept the haze of all of those future broadcasts … because streams will originate from billions of individuals. The supply of ad inventory will reach to the sky, and prices for ad space will plummet as media publishers face competition in the air around them. Noted Ad Age columnist Bob Garfield calls this the Chaos Scenario (a bit of a punt, we think), but his point that ad media someday may be recalled as a passing 20th century fad resonates.
Riding the balloon
Of course advertising will endure, just in choppier weather. Marketers will still have voices, customers will still long to consume, and marketplaces for information will evolve to help buyers and sellers make choices. Advertisers may gain in the short term as increased competition for their dollars, driven by ballooning communication inventory, drives down ad prices. (You can see this trend most visibly now in the plummeting CPMs for online advertising space.) At the same time, advertisers will have to measure results carefully to ensure dilution of media does not weaken their results.
Perhaps one approach you should test in the coming year is content that you can film cheaply and pass to the masses for their own modification and replication. Is your organization comfortable using cheap video? Can you produce material nimbly and quickly, giving up draconian controls and HR legal constipation for rapid response? Have you practiced seeding images to the masses? Your customers are going to find and share film anyway. If you don’t get involved, they’ll just shoot apple pie.