The Great British Switch Off

Access’ managing editor and creative media specialist Jamie Wallis asks, are we as an industry too tech obsessed, and how can we stop the millennial rebellion?

Right, it’s time to come out… My name is Jamie Wallis and I am a techno-sceptic. There, I’ve said it.

I wasn’t always, but recently, I have felt more and more disenchanted with technology and the ever-developing role it plays in not only our daily lives, but also in the workplace as well.

Without a doubt, technology is progress and a fair and considered yardstick to measure the progression of business and indeed, mankind. Unsurprisingly, at every stage of the evolution of technology, there have been naysayers – even going back to when the first landline telephone broke the silence with its shrill ring.

Apparently, folk were concerned that the telephone would promote laziness and stop people talking face-to-face. It seems funny now, but in modern society and business, is technology becoming the solution to everything and if so, is that right? Is it true progress, and are we happy with the fallout that this reliance on technology produces?

Through technology and social media, we are more connected than ever, but ironically, we communicate less. I think that is quite sad and rather concerning – particularly considering research carried out by the University of Michigan, which found that this reliance on tech is taking away our ability to relate and to empathise. I would go as far to say that it is also stemming our creativity and individuality.

Admittedly I am a relative newbie to this world of events and festivals, but it strikes me that from what I have experienced so far, many businesses have an over-reliance on technology. Tech is always the solution. But to what end? For me, disruptive technology is becoming a total turn off – and interestingly, millennials are switching off too.

Should this trend be a concern? Well frankly, yes. These young’uns have grown up with Google, now wear ironic mock-retro MySpace t-shirts and are fully functioning, walking, talking tech heads. But just as we are waking up to the potential of tech in our industry, these youths, the upgrade generation, are leading a rebellious disconnect from digital and social media. Who needs to go through the pain of a nose ring to rebel when you can just switch off from Twitter?

I think the millennial stance is understandable. Does tech always add to the experience, or is our obsession with new tech starting to weaken our offering?

A lot of event tech is made to provide attendees with bespoke and hopefully useful information, but yet some millennials are disengaging, as they don’t want to be pinged, buzzed, spammed and zapped with our partially relevant information. If your brand relies heavily on all things tech, is it running the danger of being an uninspiring turn off, or worse still, a nuisance?

As a go-to solution, digital and tech are rightfully key to business, particularly when they provide companies with juicy ways to consume data and measure ROI. But people buy people (an old adage) and consumers buy into brands. We all know this, but do we spend enough time thinking outside of the technical box to provide consumers with a fully rounded, creative and positive experience? The media tide is turning and yet, many of us are too dazzled by our multi-screened lifestyles to realise. But we are not the only media industry to dive head first into all things that buzz and go bleep.

I remember clearly the sheer panic and alarm in publishing that was met with the dawn of the iPad era. PRINT IS DEAD! Panic buttons were being pressed in publishing houses across the globe, as the likes of Bauer shook off print mags like a sopping wet pup shakes off rain. Meanwhile, the writing was on the Kindle for paper merchants who feared the worst with the production of cheap e-readers set to revolutionise the way we consumed literature. The print apocalypse was coming; ‘Batten down the hatches!’ publishers cried. ‘We are doomed!’ etc.

So what of this end of days media storm? Pah, it was closer to a mere smattering of rain – or as the Scots call it, ‘summer’.

In the UK, for the first six months of 2015, consumers spent £1.2bn on print and last year, there were more independent print magazines being distributed than ever before. Why, with all the content available online, are people still bothering with print? Is this the millennial rebellion and part of the great British switch off? In part, perhaps, but I believe the answer is far simpler: consumers love choice.

We can now gorge ourselves on a wondrous variety of media. Kindles are no longer stocked in most Waterstones as many consumers now prefer books to e-readers. Similarly, music lovers have Spotify, but shops are selling more vinyl and record players than they have in years. It doesn’t make sense – or does it? The experience of reading a book, or taking a record out of its sleeve, reading the inlay notes and studying the artwork gives the consumer an experience currently far greater than what tech can provide.

My long-winded point is this: tech is absolutely vital to the progression of our industry, but let’s use it a little more sparingly, try to be a little more creative and who knows, those millennials might just switch back on.

This feature originally appeared in the February issue of Access All Areas, out now.

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