SXSW: Physical plus digital

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DDB New York's director of digital innovation examines the point where technology becomes an extension of ourselves

AUSTIN — This was my first year at #SXSW, so I tried to do everything. However, I’m no newbie when it comes to conventions. As such, my New York Comic Con experience should have prepared me for the crowds and the exhausting days. Despite thinking I was prepared, SXSW managed to both exhaust and inspire me each day.

The merger of physical and digital was the key takeaway for me. Many companies, such as Samsung, were displaying their virtual- or augmented-reality technology around downtown Austin. The #SXGaming pavilion had a number of small companies, like the amazing LyteShot, showing their innovations as well with some that could rival the big names. When it comes to marketing and innovation, I felt that the true industry changing technology in the physical plus digital space would be around beacons and wearables.

My main focus while at SXSW was on wearable technology and beacons and how they can improve our lives. It seemed to me that the explosion of these technologies and their impact across all industries is closest to changing our world profoundly.

Beacons are already making their way into retail and other industries. As this technology becomes cheaper and smaller, and as people find new ways to power the tiny devices from all sorts of places like fluorescent lights to solar, they will easily become ubiquitous.

The technology for all kinds of wearables is still evolving and will eventually be better integrated transparently into everyday life.

Its potential to enhance our lives is enormous. For example, wearable technology that can evaluate a wearer’s brain waves, eye movement, heart rate, temperature and sweat level and then use that information to evaluate health and emotional status could help a user understand what actually physically makes them happy versus what they thought made them happy. This was brought up in the discussion panel "Wearables and the Happiness Quotient (#WearablesHQ)" run by Forest Young.

Beacons — common to retail marketing and advertising — can become useful for much more as described by Steve Hegenderfer of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group in his panel "Beacons for Good: Avoiding the Creepy (#how2beacon)." Imagine being able to locate a firefighter in a burning building using beacon technology or a farmer being able to adjust water and fertilizer on the fly as his tractor drives by giving him updates on moisture and mineral levels of the soil. The possibilities of this technology are amazing and life saving.

It was quite interesting and refreshing to hear more than one panel addressing beacons and wearables speak about the importance of companies that make and deploy these devices to think about the "value exchange." Basically, provide your user a worthwhile experience in exchange for the important and personal data they often give freely to you. Along with providing this value exchange it is important to educate your users on your policy, what data you are tracking and keeping, and how you intend to use it now and in the future.

Now that I've experienced amazing technology and fantastic BBQ, I am already waiting to get my badge for #SXSW2016.

Joel Nagy is director of digital innovation for DDB New York.

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