Contextual Computing and the Future of Technology

Lots of chatter lately has revolved around the theory (or feeling, maybe?) that the future of technology is strictly all about mobile. Mobile advertising. Mobile websites. Mobile apps. And yes, while the numbers do support the notion that our dependence on mobile devices continues to tick upward, as a professional responsible for marketing brands to their respective audiences, I have to plan beyond a mobile device. It’s imperative that I think about the context in which the messaging is received.

An industry priority is to be in the right place at the right time for our clients to achieve maximum exposure. Because really, exposure (matched with the appropriate messaging of course) translates into leads, which translates into beds in heads or ticket sales, which then translates into black ink into the bottom line. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

You catch my drift.

In theory it seems simple, and in theory mobile devices might make our jobs easier … or more challenging depending on how you look at it. While I acknowledge that a robust mobile component is a necessary part of a digital strategy, it’s merely a conduit for larger, more meaningful connections and enhanced personalized experiences.

It’s all about context. How we use and communicate on a mobile device is much different than using a computer, and even more different than using a social network. What works on one doesn’t always work on the other. Quite often, this detail is overlooked.

Recently, I read a great article by Pete Mortensen in Fast Company that used the phrase “contextual computing.” In short, contextual computing requires combined efforts between hardware, software, networks and services to create and thus provide a more tailored and relevant experience. As the Mortensen puts it, “always-present computers, able to sense the objective and subjective aspects of a given situation, will augment our ability to perceive and act in the moment based on where we are, who we’re with and our past experiences. These are our sixth, seventh and eighth senses.”

Yes, a significant role in this vision is a smartphone because the sensor-based technology is with us wherever we go. But those sensors are integral to capturing and interpreting our behaviors and our responses to every situation. The insight gathered from our every move is then used to provide a specific and customized experience. It helps brands and advertisers identify the key characteristic and behaviors their targeted audiences make. It will also help influence our human responses and decision-making.

We’ve already started to see the evolution of behavior-based technology in wearable devices. Gadgets like fitness trackers (my favorite right now is the FitBit Flex) or more augmented-reality based technology like Google Glass. While both are drastically different in purpose and function/output, they’re really both centered on the same fundamental idea: human data gathered to provide a more meaningful and personalized experience.

While Mortensen feels that within the next decade, contextual computing will be the “dominant paradigm in technology,” I argue that we’ll see it much earlier than within the next 10 years. I give it less than five years, specifically within the travel and tourism and the beverage industries. They’re both prime and ready for using human behavior to expand on the existing customized advertising efforts. If you think advertising is specific now, just wait – it will get way more granular and specific than any of us think, or realize.  Technology will not only know that you as a consumer love to drink craft beer, It will also recognize that you only drink craft beer from a specific geographic radius and it must be in cans, and nothing else. In turn, brands will then serve you advertisements, which meet this specific data set.

What’s the point to all of this? We’re well on our way to technology knowing us better than we know ourselves. Businesses, brands and advertisers will use this to their advantage. It’s how we as humans respond to this paradigm shift that will be the true story. As the old saying goes, “Evolve or die.”