The return of real and tangible objects

When the digital revolution erupted there was a rush to ditch the physical in place of the new fangled digital alternatives. Letters, photographs, books, playing games and even human interaction have all fallen victim to global digitalisation. Email, Instagram, Angry Birds and Facebook have replaced some of the most central day-to-day physical things in our lives. Remember when you used to receive letters from your friends? Or had the excitement of waiting for a camera film to be developed?

However, we are now experiencing a backlash. Consumers have begun to crave the return of physical and tangible objects. With this in mind and for companies to keep up with the increasingly nostalgic consumer they have had to devise ways to deliver ‘the tangible’ through the use of technology. This is the latest trend that brands are employing to hijack consumer’s imaginations and stay relevant in the fast moving marketplace.

From taking your virtual brand into the real world through Facebook’s business card service, to managing your wardrobe digitally, a growing number of brands are jumping on this trend of employing technology to enable the physical.

Nonetheless, despite this craving for the tangible we are currently in the middle of one of the biggest evolutions in the digitalisation of our lives. For example, we are moving ever closer to a cashless society with the rise of smartphone technology that enables us to simply swipe our mobiles to pay for items. Removing physical currency completely would signify one of the biggest shifts in human culture ever experienced.

We are seeing the continual rise of Kindle and Kobo and the corresponding explosion of social e-reading meaning that your book club could now number thousands of people worldwide. Another powerful example of the rise of a paper-free future is a comparison of the fortunes of troubled Kodak and shooting star Instagram.

Even our wardrobes are becoming digitalised. A new company has emerged in the last few years called Vault Couture, which allows your wardrobe to be logged and then managed remotely and digitally for items to be shipped to you when required.

Conscious not to miss out on this trend, a rising number of savvy digital brands are tapping into this new consumer preference for the tangible. Facebook has partnered with the UK digital printing service moo.com to encourage users to take their virtual brand into the real world by creating personalised business cards based on images and posts from their profile. ‘Facebook Cards’ they claim, is a “new model of social-business networking” that “bridges the gap between online and offline”.

Driving it to the next level, 3D printing is taking the world by storm, and is expected to proliferate. This technology marks the point at which the divide between the digital and the physical takes on a whole new realm with endless possibilities. However, it can only extend out of medicine and architecture once costs decrease significantly.

In an increasingly digital age we are seeing growing evidence to suggest that consumers are valuing physical objects more than ever before. However, this is by no means a retrograde Luddite impulse or a step backwards. Technology is now becoming the fashionable way to enable the birth and use of the much coveted physical object.

Tim Hipperson, chief executive of G2 Joshua

Leave a Reply