Technological saturation and the drive for things tangible

The rise of craft beer, foodie culture and beard oil

We're human. And while we aren't given a handbook at birth with all the how-to's needed to successfully maintain ourselves, there are many truths that have emerged over millennia. We know we need to eat, sleep, drink, fuck, run, breathe and so on. And we know it because, if we go without any of those needs for too long, there is an insatiable hunger that comes over us and compels us to take action. To scratch the itch.

These internal drives have informed the way humans have built the world around them. Nearly everything is designed and manufactured to satisfy a craving or a need - or a perceived need anyway. Our desires inform nearly every decision we make at any given time, and while they can be influenced by external stimuli, we are generally making choices that we at least believe will serve our need, whatever it may be.

One such way human beings have worked to scratch those aforementioned itches was by innovating and employing new technologies that made things more enjoyable, efficient, nutritious or comfortable. Everything from rocks, to sticks, to fire, to basic tools, to iPhones has been utilized as a way to fast track some need we are trying to satisfy or to increase output-getting us to our end goal more quickly and efficiently than previous methodologies. However, with massive leaps in technology and the subsequent development and evolution that came with it, there have often been unintended consequences that usually remain unseen until it's too late to do much about it.

This can be demonstrated across time-deforestation, overhunting, disease, war, Fortnite-and some scientist could probably ramble off a million more such examples. However, in this piece I'd like to explore how total immersion in technology - from the computer to the smart phone to social media and connected devices - is actually driving consumers back to more tangible and tactile experiences in the face of widely-held beliefs to the contrary.

As early as 2011 reports started to come out acknowledging a so-called resistance to the constant connectivity that has become pervasive in recent years. "We call this 'pushback,'" said Ricardo Gomez, assistant professor in the University of Washington (UW) Information School.

According to Gomez, "Pushback is an expression of those who have access and use of communication technologies, but who decide to resist, drop off, manage or reduce their use of these technologies."

In 2013, Gomez along with a team of researchers at the UW in Seattle, WA studied this phenomenon analyzing more than 70 sources of online expression from blogs and personal websites to pop-media sources, academic journals and conferences and what they found is almost exactly what I think most of us would agree with on a human level. They discovered that the allure of a connected life was driven by the prospect of greater human connection. Seemingly, however, present technology misses the mark. In the words of Gomez, "Longing for connection to people is what makes it hard for users to push back on technology, what brings them back. But technology seems to overpromise and underdeliver in this respect."

You know the feeling

This "pushback" as Gomez calls it, is an experience many of us feel from time to time to varying degrees, but we all know it. Our devices have become such integral parts of our day-to-day that we often have difficulty simply putting them down. And even when we do set them aside, many of us struggle to avert our gaze for long. Despite knowing we need to create some distance, we fight it tooth and nail. Our body knows that something isn't quite right for us, but the endorphin rush that comes from conquering each subsequent stage of Candy Crush Saga is intoxicating.

This internal struggle is a common experience and has been across time-not just in this modern era. There has always been resistance to technology and its overuse. A longing for "the way we did things when we were kids" or a built-in resistance to change. But while the reason one chooses to rebel against our nature may vary broadly, the end-result is much the same. Some cite privacy concerns, while for others it's simply a matter of time-suckage-lost hours/days/weeks/seasons. Others still complain of lost relationships and missed opportunities while some have more self-serving reasons like ego and the opportunity to virtue signal. Regardless, no matter how it manifests itself, no matter how long we chase that dragon, at our core there will always be a driving energy in us as humans that physically craves something our devices can't yet deliver-real, life, relationships.

The importance of relationships

Intrinsically I think we all know that relationships are really where it's at. But I'd argue that in the realm of technological resistance, it's not only relationships in the traditional sense-relationships with those around you-but rather it's a multifaceted approach. Relationships not just with people, but with yourself. Further, it's your relationship with the things you interact with day-to-day- with the block of wood you're whittling, the bottle of wine you're relishing, the meal that you are sharing or your relationship with that old Jets sweater that mama knitted for you.

Each kind of relationship satisfies a need found deep inside a person whether it's a need to belong, the desire to feel great in ones skin and overcome insecurities, the satisfaction felt in accomplishing something, indulging in things that bring pleasure, enjoying time with friends or visualizing a goal of owning a sports franchise (see aforementioned Jets sweater). Even though the possibilities are endless, the common thread shared is the one I'd argue cannot be fully experience via modern technology.

To that end-and through the lens of relationships-there is certainly a place for all this technology in our world, so please don't take this as an all out attack on it. It's not a zero sum game. After all you'd be hard pressed to say that we haven't improved quality of life globally through advances in technology. However, just like a human relationship, boundaries must be set and expectations established with devices and consumption habits to be happy and healthy.

Why you should care

One result of this so-called "pushback" and our hunger for relationships has been an increase in the popularity of products and services that provide more tangible and tactile experiences. Quaint vestiges from the past that provide access to more satisfying real relationships. We see them everywhere in the market today, some manifesting in the rise of the craft food and craft beer movements for example. According to Upserve Restaurant Insider, "Millennials aren't just buying breakfast, lunch or dinner, they want their meal to be an 'experience.'" But the same is true across industries and the sentiment is reaching far beyond just millennials.

Another example is found in the sudden influx of men's grooming products and hipster/luxury barbershops springing up all over. If you're paying any kind of attention, I'm sure you've noticed that each week it seems like another shop is opening determined to give men "an experience." But don't take my word for it, this is big business! According to Forbes in a 2017 article called "Barbershops are Back and Bucking Retail Trends" they cite Garrick Brown, Vice President of Retail Research at Cushman & Wakefield in saying "…the new form of high-end barbershops are experiential retail done right."

Brown goes on to state that "…most of the disruption from e-commerce (intangible experiences)is limited to the razor market, where brands like Dollar Shave Club, which recently sold to Unilever for $1B, have dominated in recent years. Beyond that niche, brick-and-mortar is king, accounting for 81% of total men's grooming product sales (tangible experiences)."

What we are seeing illustrated in the examples above is that the drive we have for relationships-the tangible kind-are leading to increases in popularity among the businesses who cater to them. As such, by supporting people through encouraging meaningful relationship-building experiences and offering opportunities to do real things with real people outside of the internet, we are seeing massive growth and consumer satisfaction which in turn leads to significant investments in the products and services that scratch our itches.

The moral of the story

It would be pretty difficult to come out with an article espousing the valor of the anti-relationship movement and how automation and hands-off living is what we need to find satisfaction in our human experience. After all, we all know it to be true that quality relationships and tactile experiences are the path to success in life and in business. But if we know it, why are so many businesses reluctant to do the work needed to take their brand, service or product to the next level?

Short answer is I don't know. I don't have the solution. And if I did I'd certainly not be writing from my home office on a 7-year old mac. It would be much more glamorous than that, I'm sure of it. But what I do know is that we may be able to find some truth in a quick walk down memory lane.

Many are quick to say that the old ways are just that, old. After all, "it's the future bro" and fundamentals are sooooo two-decades ago, right? Well, no. Actually, to be honest what worked in granddads day or hell, in the paleolithic times (not the diet, the era) more or less works today. Pretty much everything in business boils down to who you know, like and trust. There is no secret sauce. If you have developed a strong foundation and established meaningful relationships with the cavemen and women in your tribe, when food runs short, they'll kick you a rib or two. If not, guess who's starving?

Take that lesson and apply it to the work you do or the product you offer. Are you or it worth knowing, liking and trusting? Great! Then tell the world about it and lead with actions that back it up.

Practice what I preached

Have thoughts about the value of developing long-standing, meaningful relationships in your business? How have you implemented the ideas discussed in this piece in your work? There is a longer story to tell, let's tell it together! Find me on the socials and let's continue this conversation wherever the audience most suited to hear it can get involved - I am @ryanroghaar on Medium, Twitter and Instagram.

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Resources:

For more information on Ricardo Gomez's study, start here: https://www.washington.edu/news/2013/10/21/pushback-resisting-the-life-of-constant-connectivity/

Learn a little more about restaurant trends as they relate to relationships and experiences here:

https://upserve.com/restaurant-insider/fast-casual-fast-fine-dining/

See the full article at Forbes about the amazing rise of high-end barbershops and the business of barbering here:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bisnow/2017/07/06/barbershops-are-back-and-bucking-retail-trends/