Now curiosity is the single most important behaviour which defines us as creatively intelligent creatures
Looking at people in their day-to-day lives, something struck me: whether we’re travelling, shopping, going to the movies or a football match or simply in free time, we see people that are constantly curious. We spend our time hunting, comparing, learning, exploring. And mobile phones are the catalyst.
"Curiouser and curiouser!" cried Alice as she wandered in Wonderland and now curiosity is the single most important behaviour which defines us as creatively intelligent creatures. We’re not taught it, we’re born with it and arguably it has placed us in our commanding position amongst other animals on earth.
Curiouser and curiouser
In his academic research summary ‘Curiosity and Information Seeking in Animal and Human Behavior’, Professor Wojciech Pisula concludes: "Curiosity: a desire to understand various phenomena and a quest for knowledge – is one of the main driving forces of progress. The hunger for information about the world around us is often quoted as a factor which determines our place in nature". Tip of tongue situations are the moments when curiosity drives behaviour most powerfully – we have to know some of the story to know there’s more we don’t know.
Einstein and many other intellectual and cultural leaders have asserted that curiosity is the key trait of genius. We all experience it cognitively but also physically and socially. It stretches our senses and shapes the cerebral cortex – and when we’re deprived of curiosity, brain development falls behind. What perhaps is most interesting is how this innate curiosity so powerfully drives us when we are children, but as time goes on it falls into the background. We don’t act on it – we live on our habits and our current knowledge.
Technology shapes us as humans
Why then do we lose this intuitive way of navigating the world? Maybe it’s because language and culture take over and we somehow lose this intuitive and essential navigational ability.
We are already outsourcing our short-term memory to Google, shaping our brains and how we think
Technology has always shaped us as humans – we’ve been able to identify new ways of doing things and new uses for our resources. Most recently the "Google Effect" was identified. It shows how we are already outsourcing our short-term memory to that platform, shaping our brains and how we think.
Shaping media and culture
Media and culture has moved in this direction for decades – speeding up how we connect with content and with each other. From faster edits in films and music videos to six-second Vines. Letters became emails and now text messages. Composed photographs transformed into quick digital camera snaps and now selfies on Snapchat. Emoticons and emojis further reduce communication to instant emotional gestures and research shows our brains are already learning to react to them physiologically in the same way as real faces.
We’ve also seen some fascinating behaviour on Blippar in the four years we’ve been running our platform. Amongst the billions of blipps which have been registered some really interesting patterns have emerged in the data, which reveal our innate curiosity and changing quirks of our behaviour.
One example is how curiosity does not follow the demographic patterns one might expect. For example, 30% of the older readership of Gardeners’ World magazine regularly blipped its pages to see videos of birdsong and get tips on horticulture. Elsewhere, immediately after Robin van Persie scored his ‘Superman Goal’ in the 2014 World Cup, blipps on the Van Persie branded Pepsi can peaked in the Netherlands, showing that fans’ excitement drove curiosity at that precise moment. In fact, almost 8% of Pepsi cans in distribution in the Netherlands were blipped during that period.
Even something as seemingly natural as a web search requires us to know the words to describe what we are looking for. Generation Curious just wants to point and discover
We also observed that once people blipp a can of fizzy soda, a press ad or poster for a film, or a magazine, their curiosity is piqued and they immediately go on to try and blipp other objects in the world around them.
We could see that this new ‘Generation Curious’ behaviour was emerging. We then reengineered the image recognition engine in Blippar to recognise all objects and optimise artificial intelligence algorithms to provide a range of relevant content – based on the individual and context (up till that point it had been Augmented Reality experiences). We’re now training the system to recognise the world – quite an undertaking.
Reconnect with our inner child
What is it about the new technology which is teasing out our curious sides? In my view it’s all about how closely the technology can integrate with us – whether it can get so personalised and pre-emptive of our needs and interests that we can access it without thinking, or indeed making any kind of request. Even something as seemingly natural as a web search requires us to know the words to describe what we are looking for. Generation Curious just wants to point and discover.
So unlike Generation X, Y or Z, Generation Curious has always been with us. It’s an innate behaviour which gets masked as we grow up. Digital technology now enables us to reconnect with the curious, intuitive beings we were as children and that we remain inside.