Technology Reveals Its Softer Side

Guest Post from Image Source
By John O’Reilly

The conversation around technology is already changing, slowly, discreetly, the network has become ‘pervasive’, ‘embedded’,’wearable’ – it’s in the ‘cloud’. You get a sense of the prevailing winds when in the UK the BBC’s The Apprentice features a task to design wearable technology, amid anxieties over privacy, and despite one of the products looking like a jacket with added gaffer tape one retailer ordered 250 because they “like to be early adopters of technology”.

‘Like’ is Hard

But perhaps this strangest blend of the worlds of hard and soft, where the signs of the digital and material ghost into each other’s universes came from a recent ad for C&A by Brazilian agency DM9éDDB in Contigo magazine. The virtual sign, the icon of the digital age, the Facebook ‘like’ icon is transformed into a material button. The magazine contains a chip so when the reader presses the icon the ‘like’ is immediately registered on their Facebook page. The fashion model is her own subject in the selfie, the catwalk has expanded colonizing any space there is a smartphone camera. 


Hardware, Softsell

The coming technologies around the internet of things and health apps where information becomes both tangible, and synchronized with the human, are the big drivers. So when Apple (a brand which consumers have accepted as a conduit for the future into the present via lifestyle products) launch their new iWatch, this new new relationship between hard and soft, between information and flesh feels like it has made a leap into mainstream consciousness. The human arm transformed into an interface in a world where we are never offline, software as a kind of active Tattoo, where the borders between the physical and the intangible have become transparent.

Apple.Cover_-768x1024Time Magazine, September 2014

It’s a familiar image in the culture as the conflict between the Hard and the Soft, technology and culture, is periodically played out, most resonantly in Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man (a set of stories around a tattooed man), where his remarkably prescient short story The Veldt is a must read for planners seeking frameworks for how the internet of things will also shift our relationship to images (see also Project Underskin by New Deal Design).

Emotional Signatures

Father with son in Kitchen Image downloaded by John O'Reilly at 11:51 on the 16/10/14Photographer Zak Kendal. Image Source / The RM Signature Collection.

Interestingly, The Tattoo, is fast becoming a staple of stock photography where once it was airbrushed out regarded by mainstream society as a kind of cultural deviance. This acceptance by the wider culture, was arguably driven by the sharing of stories and feelings in the digital world, and made it ok for this form of coded storytelling on the body, defining significant relationships, people and events.The visibility of the Tattoo, has become an expression of soft power, the signifier of a transparent emotional honesty. Which brings us back to Apple’s shift in communications from the hard sell of hardware and technology to the soft sell of sentiments. These soft benefits are quantified as experiential, emotional and very much shared. 

Learn more about The Age of Hard and Soft on Image Source’s blog.