Tech Talk: We’re All Connected—Even When We Disconnect


What do the shadow world, techno-maladies and an open-door policy have in common? They are the three macro areas of social change predicted to affect businesses over the next 12 to 18 months, according to an annual trend report published by sparks & honey, a New York-based management consulting company. “Trends 2019: Strangers in a Strange Land” reveals a complex phenomenon that will affect the way people work, play, shop and interact with each other. The three macro trends include the following: the shadow world refers to a greater questioning of life beyond consumers’ day-to-day schedules in search of deeper meaning; techno-maladies refers to a growing dependence on technological devices, which affects consumers’ perception of self and others, and how they socialize; and an open-door policy, labeled in the report as “outsiders welcome,” refers to a stronger appeal for all that is unusual, unconventional or far-flung, and a budding acceptance of such in the business world. 

With every technological innovation, consumers’ potential as thinkers, workers and human beings, in general, expands. People are able to create in ways that were once impossible. On the other side of the coin, however, consumers are being flooded with even more stimuli, which increases their dependence on devices—perhaps even relying on them to properly function. According to the study, consumers check their phones 52 times a day, on average—that’s nearly 20,000 times each year.

Due to the infiltration of technology, sparks & honey identified five behavioral patterns to expect from consumers in need of a break.

Tunneling: Because consumers are overwhelmed with virtual clutter, they feel the need to refocus and establish personal safe havens in the virtual world.

 Semi-presence: The virtual clutter forces consumers to multitask, dividing their time and attention into a seemingly never-ending stream of information processing. This leaves them feeling caught in the “three-dot process,” or the space between task completion and processing.

 Think-sourcing: With less time to devote to tasks, consumers have developed the mindset that what they cannot do for themselves, machines can do for them. For companies, this translates into the use of artificial intelligence, which is vastly helpful, but leads people further away from following their own intuition for development.

 “It’s complicated”: The use of technology to make up for time strains in other areas of consumers’ lives, including their professional and personal relationships. This phase has led to the emergence of new terms, like “ghosting,” which originally referred to people cutting out of conversations indefinitely and unexpectedly on dating profiles, becoming relevant in the workplace.

 Digital minimalism: In order to unplug, consumers are opting for devices that serve select, specific purposes. This allows them to tap into a middle ground, of sorts, between being disconnected and being available—but only as much as needed. 

The need to unplug has become so widespread that social trends have started developing as well. Some consumers are choosing to follow the Silent Diet—an oath not to speak or engage with technology for periods of time. Others are partaking in mindful practices, with the national meditation market reaching $1.21 billion in 2018. Ironically, a portion of this is driven by apps, like Calm—Apple’s App of the Year—which was downloaded by more than 37 million people in 2018. In China, consumers are so distracted by their smartphones they’ve become known as the “heads-down tribe,” with sidewalks dedicated to texters.

Promotional products companies can get in on the trend by providing collateral to support mindful events, relaxation and healthy living practices that don’t require technology. Branded, insulated water bottles can encourage outdoor activity, along with eco-friendly practices, while branded eye masks can shield consumers’ eyes from light emitted from the TV or other electronics when relaxing or resting. Elegantly designed planners can be provided as a traditional alternative to a phone or tablet for scheduling dates, meetings and errands. In this day and age, going traditional can prove a winner—especially when a tech timeout is needed.

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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