Tech is more deeply intertwined in our lives than ever before. The implications are not so clear but research shows that people find it increasingly difficult to detach from it and form meaningful relationships with the world around them. The promise of 5G and IoT will integrate technology even deeper into every aspect of our lives. So instead of looking at all the possibilities, we need a stronger focus on understanding the right balance of relationships within the context of a tech-driven world: what we want versus what is possible.
Take the leap
Building strong relationships between companies and customers is an essential part of the way we run our business. We’ve been involved in projects where we helped design the next level in-car experience for Mercedes and Faraday Future. From these experiences we concluded that building a non-physical connection through voice control and interfaces needs to take a big leap when it comes to understanding human behavior as well as interaction in order to make tech work in completely new and innovative ways.
Start with a plant
Self-watering plants monitoring their own water level is nothing new in IoT. Convenient, for sure. However, this automation only serves to distance you from your plant. You no longer have to look after it, giving you no real reason to interact with it any more. It’s automation as a convenience. But it also disconnects you from what might be the core reason for having plants (apart from the aesthetics); people like taking care of a plant – it provides us with a feeling of responsibility.
We wanted to understand how to build meaningful interactions between people by looking at how we relate to plants. The most straightforward relation you can probably think of is that plants are irrational and indifferent, which is a good start for our experiment. So we wired up a number of office plants with sensors and interfaces and programmed them in such a way that they would pro-actively try to establish a relationship with us and the other plants through WhatsApp, Slack, and Skype. After switching them on, we closely studied the behavior of our colleagues in the office.
What we learned from talking to plants.
1 - Humanizing. By giving plants a personality, we humanize them and realize that these seemingly inanimate things can actually be perceived as personalities and instantly trigger human interactions. More importantly, the experiment triggered emotions and empathy with ease. It was actually the first time people truly felt appreciated by a plantan whenever it thanked them.
2 - Connecting. After initial excitement within the office, a smaller group of people now have taken a more responsible role towards the plants. They tapped into the interaction more constructively than others and had the plants send them messages over the weekend.
3 - Going beyond human connections. We have now connected multiple plants to form a group to help understand how machine learning can improve interrelations between plants. In a future IoT driven world, it will be interesting to find out how a heavily connected world with inert objects could impact human behavior. The first signs are quite annoying (connected plants seem to be complaining about the weather mostly) but interesting.
It may seem gimmicky, but this quirky use case helped us understand better how technology can impact human behavior and strengthen relationships.
With technology, we can now form relationships with things that we weren’t previously able to communicate with. We can give a voice to inanimate objects. To stand out from the competition and truly connect with your customers, it has become more important than ever for business leaders to prioritize meaningful human interactions. To do this, companies need to learn to take a humanistic approach to technology in order to strengthen the relationship they have with their customers and to the world around them, such as cars, bikes, headphones, or even chairs. The bottom line is that it provides you with brand affinity and business.