Finding Digital White Space In A World With 50 Billion Connected Devices

Writing about William Powers’ Hamlet’s BlackBerry, Steve Myers summarizes,

The key, Powers, said, is to create gaps between these periods of connectedness. Just as white space on a page draws attention to what is most visually important, digital white space can help us focus on those ideas that take some time to formulate.

Digital white space is nice metaphor and Powers’ himself ran with it in a blog post on his site.  In case you missed it, you can listen to Powers’ discussing his very sensible approach to digital life with Jerry Brito in an interview we mentioned here a few months ago.

White space, however, may become increasingly hard to find.  Marshall Kirkpatrick discusses Chetan Sharma’s vision of an uber-connected world in, “How 50 Billion Connected Devices Could Transform Brand Marketing & Everyday life.” These devices will include not only smart phones and tablet PCs, but also cereal boxes.  What do you do with a connected cereal box, you ask?

“With a cereal box? You’ll communicate about health related issues, add social elements, easy ordering. A brand can build a direct relationship with the consumer without relying on retail stores. Look at the aftermarket, 30% of the diapers ordered are now ordered online. There’s no reason why that can’t happen on other objects. I think the chance for the brand to interact with consumers directly is huge.

Earlier Sharma explained, regarding the uber-connectivity he envsions:

This is where it needs to go and will go in 10 years, making everyday experiences much better and friction free. If a person has a desire to learn or shop or engage in social interaction, it’s right there. Beyond just doing things on televisions and cell phones, you’ll be able to do these things on a wall anywhere. It’s about reducing friction. You can accomplish any given task today with 50 different steps but this future of connected devices is all about making things much easier.

Good luck finding that white space.  No really, good luck, because we need that white space.

After reading this last piece, I vaguely remembered a movie that gave us a picture of this frictionless world, and then it came to me:

4 thoughts on “Finding Digital White Space In A World With 50 Billion Connected Devices

  1. First off, yes, this does seem like a Buy ‘n Large/Wall-E sort of creepy dystopian urge that these people have. Apparently they’ve never read Adorno (I wonder what would happen to mass marketing and mass culture if all purveyors mass marketing and culture read Adorno’s work on the culture industry – probably nothing, but you never know(not that I totally agree with Adorno; I think he’s a bit of a curmudgeon)). That’s a good connection to make, especially since the people in Wall-E are literally connected to their electronic marketing devices, unobservant about what is going on in the real world around them. Learning goes by the wayside when instead you can just watch entertaining programming (and as ads become more entertaining, the line between entertaining program and advertisement blurs). Thinking more about the connection, though, I’m reminded of the scene in Wall-E where the robots and a hologram are teaching the children the alphabet using products and marketing slogans/jargon instead of using what we would consider a more traditional approach. If children start learning about nutrition from their cereal boxes, who is going to be proofing that copy? Making sure that the cereal boxes are distributing correct information about nutrition? Textbooks go through multiple levels of proofing and checks and are also held accountable to both teachers and state academic standards. If cereal boxes are not (as they are not now), how can we hold companies accountable for the veracity of the information they would want to communicate through their cereal? Because I’m guessing their information probably would not be unbiased (just like those “corn sugar” commercials that are currently running on cable, which technically don’t contain any falsehoods but instead just elide any mention of the negatives of high fructose corn syrup). This “frictionless” world not only sounds like the dystopian future of Wall-E, but also Fahrenheit 411 and 1984.

    Also, though, I can’t help but observe that these marketing people seem to be speaking only to people of a certain income and above. I still know plenty of people who can’t afford a cellphone (or can only afford a basic one that is just a phone, not a phone/mini-computer) or a computer/the internet. Heck, I know people who had a hard time affording the mandatory converter during the switch between analog and digital TV. If these people are already being pushed further toward the margins of culture and cultural capital status quo, what will happen in a world where we can supposedly have a frictionless life experience through our smartphones and computers? Not that I’m in favor of this “frictionless” life, but it is definitely a life aimed at a particular income level and above (but perhaps that is so obvious that it ought to have gone without saying).

    1. Reading your first few lines, the image of Don Draper reading Adorno popped into my mind, that would be a smart spoof for someone more creative than me to pull off. In response to your question though, either nothing, or Adrono would get co-opted much like the avant garde — Adorno on T-shirts, I’m sure that’s out there somewhere. And yes, a bit of a curmudgeon; perhaps a dose of Benjamin for every one of Adorno might help! In any case, important questions. I suspect some might answer that the “social” dimension would help with the “policing” of information, wiki-nutrition perhaps, along with traditional regulators. But there does tend to be an assumption about the transparency of the data being communicated which seems a bit naive. Worse, though, is the facilitation of a fundamentally consumptive posture toward reality. Maybe now I’m being the curmudgeon …

      One other thought, I tend to link up Wall-E with Brave New World a little more so than 1984, more of a chosen condition, than an imposed one … but as you point out, one clearly geared toward a particular segment of society, its an affluent dystopia, and that is not so obvious that it need not be mentioned.

  2. That’s so funny that you thought of WALL-E too! I had drafted a lead that worked in a WALL-E reference but my editor thought it was tangential.

    Thanks for writing about my post.

    Cereal boxes…man. Though I have to admit, we order our diapers online too. So if they inserted a chip on our box of diapers, who knows, maybe I’d order refills that way.

    Steve Myers

    1. No problem, it was a great piece. Glad I was able to fulfill what was apparently Wall-E’s destiny to be linked in some way with your post! We’ll see what comes of those digitally enhanced cereal boxes …



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