What you have here is the new Sony 84-inch 4k television. It’s being unveiled at this year’s IFA in Berlin. It does many clever things, but best you concentrate on its size. Those of you familiar with the Imperial system will know instantly that 84 inches roughly translates as 7 feet – a lounge defying 2.13 metres. Given that the length of the average sofa is some way short of this, this is a difficult thing to get in the house, let alone up on the wall. There are many new giants on show at this year’s IFA. We are in danger of being dwarfed by our own inventions – literally.
And not just dwarfed. Outrun, outsmarted, outweighed. Lighter, slimmer, faster, bigger, smaller – the race against the human is on. Which isn’t totally fair, because everything this year points towards the likes of Sony and company – Samsung excluded, because its already having a go – trying to be Apple, trying in other words to make its technologies be almost a real person, a synched up bundle of electronic joy. The trillion dollar question: how to make the second bona fide electronic family that everyone can’t help but love to bits?
Nevertheless, Apple is conspicuous by its absence, Samsung’s smarting after a billion dollar rap on the circuit board and TVs that need delivering on a flat-back lorry abound. Not only is everything so much smarter than us, but they’re now so physically challenging as to require assistance. Too big, too small, too obvious. What’s going on?
Well, lots, and you’ll have to pick the brand-pushed nuggets out for yourselves – IFA runs for a week as of today. In the meantime, is there anything else going on, anything new and good, anything rocking electronic boats, stuff perhaps not on show at this year’s IFA, either because it’s not a computer, camera, phone or TV; or because it’s a process or a function, and not an object? There is. Welcome to The Zeitgeist Project, a one-off gathering, curated by 8 – for want of a better word – super consumers, attended by many of the industry’s movers and shakers, the interested. Watch this introductory video:
So, last night, at Kreuzberg’s Heilig Kreuz Kirche, Berlin’s homage to everything that is great and fine about the neo-gothic, in a carefully curated 3 part exposition of what the world outside IFA (mainly) might be getting up to, we were introduced to what The Zeitgeist Project host, Adam Scott, calls ‘the magic, the new magic’, to Church, Boats and Lounge, to provocative introductions, a mini-seminar carousel and to the products of the future – perhaps.
Perhaps, because that’s up to you; because, as you’ll see, many of the products are already out there, doing the rounds, being quietly (or, indeed, loudly) extraordinary; and because the whole point of the project - as Scott (who arrived centre stage to the bong of a massive gong, subsonic bass rolling through bodies and space) said – the whole point of the project being to ‘find the product that defines our times’ – a tall and audacious order, no mistake.
And so, their ideas projected on a circular screen, the audience arranged in a circle, the introductory music marked by the tick of a giant clock, The Zeitgeist Project’s first ever 8 super consumers got to work. (Please note, what follows is three hours of said work wrapped into a minute’s read, the introductions, carousel and championing of single exemplary products all packed into a few short paragraphs. It’s a taster.)
First up, Poke and Fray founder Simon Waterfall’s dark-but-true take on desire, the computer and 3D printing (‘the internet was born in porn studios’). His defining product? Google Earth, this extraordinary mapping of our planet, this thing that is not a thing, a thing that is now upon us, with which we can literally search the world.
Next, Seymour Powell’s Richard Seymour on emotional functionalism, disembodied omnipresent technologies, ‘the need to stand in the future and pull the present towards you’ – watch this space for Apple’s Siri. Seymour’s product of the future? Nest, the world’s first super cool, super intelligent thermostat: it looks like something designed by Apple (which, in a way, it is); it’s on-line; it learns; and it saves energy. The future, in your home, now – it’s up to you.
After which followed Charles Spence’s brain centred approach to the business of product design: the brain builds desire through its senses; take note: the synesthetic future is here. Small wonder then that Spence should favour the digital plate, ‘the tablet as plate’, the sounds of the beach, the sea, right there, as you eat. It’s already out there – just most of us don’t go to those sorts of restaurants.
Then came, as if on cue, Wolff Olins founder and design strategist Michael Wolff’s A-Z of sounds in design, with A for the Apple start-up bong, C for the bottle top popping off the top of a coke bottle, V for the rip of a Velcro strap, and ‘I could talk about clicks for hours...’: the most successful designs invent, own and disseminate particular sounds. For him, the product of the age is something like Bose’s A20 aviation headset: sound dissected, compartmentalised, arranged and decided by technology.
Next, Bobbie Johnson, tech journalist and digital long copy evangelist, argued for the narrative, for the need to create and sustain the feel of intimacy, for the power of human (emotional) investment – as demonstrated by the likes Kickstarter. One of Johnson’s big things is the potential of 3D printing, most of which, he says, ‘is shite’, with one exception: Makies, the consumer designed dolls that allow for maximum customisation – and work, brilliantly.
Rising to the theme, Google’s Sydney based Creative Lab director, Tom Uglow, calling for the need to reconnect to the ‘physicality’ of technology, to closing the gap between the human and the machine – less ‘augnmented reality’, more ‘reality, augmented.’ Which is why, when asked, he plugs Makey Makey, the invention kit that allows you to turn an everyday object into something electronic – think electrodes, wires, computer and the consumer’s wild imagination.
Moving onto Big Data, Country Manager for Dailymotion Germany Kati Krause’s highlighting of the German reaction to Google Earth, with Google forced to abandon street to street photography, points towards consumers – certainly German - being genuinely uncomfortable with data being collected in the name of not much more than collecting cool information for (seemingly) limited purpose. Big Data, the way information can be manipulated to serve the powerful, is a big concern for Krause, which is why her choice product is Tor, a piece of software that, like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, renders your movements undetectable on the net.
Finally, Big Issue’s John Bird relates the story of the rise and rise of the magazine, a real world product designed to lift the homeless out of poverty. He sees the mobile phone in parts of Africa as being exactly the same thing, and technology in general as the way out. His product of choice is Kindle, sharing with the audience the fact that he took 200 books on holiday, and implying that it, like the smart phone, like many mass produced electronic objects, is a catalyst for wealth creation.
So, ideas, conversations, products, and not a single giant TV in sight. Even better, once done, the church of the new and the good finished, Scott invited curators, audience members, one and all, into the bar, to meet the rhino. No joke.