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CES 2019:  A Tipping Point for the Consumer-Technology Relationship?

by Kathy Sheehan , 25.01.2019

You just could not miss it at CES 2019. As the monorail snaked its way north towards the Las Vegas Convention Center, there it was. The Apple advertisement, “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone”. A lot has already been written about this advertisement – how clever and cheeky it was, how it was a not-so-subtle dig at Amazon, Google and Facebook (among others), its factual veracity.

But at the heart of Apple’s advertisement at CES is the issue of privacy. It is not just about what the big tech players are doing -- or not doing -- about privacy; it is also essential to remember and recognize how people feel about technology, its impact and how this is changing. Because understanding this shifting landscape is going to be critical for future success for tech (and indeed non-tech) brands. Even in this AI- VR- AR- 5G – next gen -- world, there is still a fundamental truth – marketers need to develop what consumers want. You can have the best technology in the world, but if the consumer does not embrace it or see the value, you are not going to have commercial success.

We are now at an inflection point in terms of how consumers are thinking about technology. When we look back, we believe that 2018 will have marked the start of a fundamental re-assessment on the impact of technology in our lives. Certainly, there were many high-profile events that happened last year that put this under a spotlight -- from GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) going into effect to Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress to numerous high-profile data breaches that affected millions of people. It is against this backdrop where we see the beginnings of attitudes shifting.

Are we healthy?
One article that has gotten quite of bit of buzz recently addresses the trend in Silicon Valley where workers at the largest tech companies are putting many limits on how technology is used within their own households. Outside of Silicon Valley, the “Wait Until Eighth” movement supports parents and communities in delaying the age at which a child gets a smart phone until 14 stating, citing reasons such as “smart phones are changing childhood” and “smart phones are addictive”. This is very much aligned with recent research from GfK Consumer Life , our global study of consumer trends. More than a third of consumers around the globe state that they “regularly take a break from technology or unplug to maintain health”. What is most notable about this figure is that it has gone up 14 points since 2014, a significant increase. The thought that too much technology might be harmful to our health is one indicator of the reassessment of tech’s role in our lives.

Are we present?
The notion of being “present” is not a new one -- the book “Be Here Now” was written in 1971 – but it certainly takes on new urgency in today’s always-on environment. Google searches on the word “mindfulness” have increased tenfold since 2004. Another area where our research shows a reassessment with technology is around presence and mindfulness. Just as we see an increase in people all around the world taking a break from tech for their health, we also see a significant rise in the amount of people who believe the “Internet is a good thing, but I worry that too much technology can be a bad thing.” Today, 70% of Americans agree with this statement, up 12 points since the beginning of this decade. We are already seeing more options for the consumer to monitor their technology usage, such as screen time diagnostics.

Are we safe?
Lastly, 2018 may mark the beginning of a tipping point in terms of consumers thinking about privacy and security implications of their technology usage. Eighty-two percent of Americans have voiced some concern over their social media footprint. GfK Consumer Life research shows that 17 percent of global consumers place their personal information falling into the wrong hands as one of their top two or three personal concerns, double the number who said this in 2009. While other worries -- such as inflation, crime and the threat of terrorism -- are seen as more pressing, none of the others have seen such a steady and sustained increase over time.

Today, we are at an inflection point in how we think about technology. Technology can be distruptive -- but so can consumers‘ attitudes. Truly investing in an understanding of the tech future means focusing not just on 5G and smartphones; it requires a commitment to studying and respecting the changing needs and desires of the people who will use (and buy) that technology.


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