Friday, September 2, 2011

What do people need more than before?

My other half was taking to me about what goods and services people don't need any more, and new things that people need. For example, people don"t really need travel agents any more. The ones that survive are largely corporate travel offices. Ten years ago there were branches of Liberry travel all over the place nearby. Not now. We have Expedia and Orbitz, where people actually do the booking themselves.

There's quite a few areas where productivity tools now mean people do what other people used to do for them. All these huge office towers in midtown used to be filled with secretaries and filists. Not any more. There is no such thing as the typing pool. People do it themselves. There has been a lot of that movement of jobs from the market back to effectively self-production. In a way people substitute their own time for spending money.

So what is increasing? What are peoples' new needs? That is such a huge and important question. I am going to argue over coming weeks and months it is steadily more things that provide experiences and engagement and transformation - changes in how people feel and think and relate to others and view the world. Adult education in a broader sense. People want to feel connected and stimulated, to have a sense of meaning and purpose.

That is longer-term, broader stuff. In immediate view, people want personal gadgets. I have found my Ipad 2 one of the most useful things I've ever bought, with whole new uses opening up almost every week.

People are connecting through social media - looking for more connection as I say above. It feels very thin, though - I have a Facebook page but hardly ever use it, in part because I distrust the privacy settings so much. Maybe I'm not in the demographic that is most attracted to it any more.

People want something to ease the minor conficts in their lives, which are mostly with other people. One major theory proposes that the human brain evolved to be so large so quickly because it needed to make fine social judgements in groups. I think much of the tone of people's day is how they get on with the people immediately around them - colleagues, bosses, subordinates at work, family and relations, friends and acquaintances. Certainly for me most negative feeling in my average day comes from skirmishes or frustrations with colleagues at work and cultural issues. Work is often the largest source of purpose and enegagement for many people. But it is also the arena for tangled webs of compeitition and cooperation and idealism and bad behavior.

People want time. On the other hand, we tend to fill too much of our time with passive activities like watching tv. Clay Shirkey in his book Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into CollaboratorsCognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators argues that releasing this passive energy could transform society. People increasingly want to do participatory, productive things with their time - wikipedia is one example. And there are increasingly more ways to tap all this social energy, which before was just being passively entertained.

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