To begin the year, let me take afew moments to consider the collision of digital expectations andanalog reality, and the tension between the instant gratificationof the consumer versus the time it takes to respond when somethingbreaks or just goes awry. Digital is instant, unequivocal, andlives in its own domain, unaffected by the physical world. Analogevolves, comes in shades of gray, and dominates the physical worldwe live in.
The Twitterverse was unkind to NewYork’s Mayor Bloomberg last week, excoriating him for the time ithas taken to remove two feet of snow from city streets. In an agewhere so many of our needs are satisfied digitally-we work online,take and store pictures, watch movies, and socialize via digitalmeans-the analog reality of a blizzard confronts ourdigitally-trained expectations in a big way.
As smartphones becomeubiquitous-and they will given what will be a steeply decliningcost curve over the next three years-we’ll have that digital worldwith us 24/7, augmenting that analog reality with data and digitalinteractions. Consider Google Goggles. Take a picture of the EmpireState Building and Goggles will display the Wikipedia entry on yoursmartphone. As this blending of the digital and analog/physicaldomains becomes even more important, those responsible for managingthat experience-merchants, mobile operators, financialinstitutions, and no end of service providers hidden in thecomputing cloud-are going to confront the same Twitter-fed ire thathit Bloomberg when something goes wrong. That will be especiallytrue when a payment fails, a digital coupon doesn’t get accountedfor, or some other promise gets broken.
Those of an age straddling theanalog to digital transition are accustomed to computers crashingand unexpected results. There were killer bugs galore. But ascomputers turn into appliances (from PCs to tablets andsmartphones) and they go into the hands of digital natives,there’ll be precious little patience, born of prior experience, todraw on.
So, as everyone in the paymentschain looks toward this all-digital, all-the-time future, plan forwhat to do when something goes wrong. Digital breakdown can turninto analog outrage way too quickly.
A postscript of sorts: Ican’t resist pointing out that those expecting instant or at leastswift removal of two feet of snow from highways and runways should,besides getting a grip, take a cue from the line in agreat moviethat goes, “get used todisappointment.”
Or maybe the better advice is tosavor the intrusion of that physical reality into the digitalworld. We aren’t digital beings. Our minds inhabit that digitalspace but our physical beings crave the grounding of the analog.Before the snow melts and the holidays get too far behind, turn offthe computer, leave the smartphone at home, and go make some snowangels. Or throw snowballs in the mayor’s direction if it makes youfeel better. Go analog, some of the time.