A billboard that reminds people of the ‘Magic of Flying’ might take us back to a time when we didn’t associate planes with long lines and security pat-downs. But it also marks a day that our relationship to technology changed forever.
Our first response to the billboard might be “wow” and our second response is probably curiosity about “how”. But even if we were to peel back the billboard to reveal the technology within, I’m not sure we’ll be satisfied.
Because the simplicity of the message and the moment of emotional resonance hide something far more profound than a scanner or a chip or a technology.
A World of Magic
There’s something else at work here and it’s not that different from magic:
For Teller (that’s his full legal name), magic is more than entertainment. He wants his tricks to reveal the everyday fraud of perception so that people become aware of the tension between what is and what seems to be. Our brains don’t see everything—the world is too big, too full of stimuli. So the brain takes shortcuts, constructing a picture of reality with relatively simple algorithms for what things are supposed to look like. Magicians capitalize on those rules. “Every time you perform a magic trick, you’re engaging in experimental psychology,” Teller says. “If the audience asks, ‘How the hell did he do that?’ then the experiment was successful. I’ve exploited the efficiencies of your mind.”
Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.
But what’s the trick? What’s the magic? What are the shortcuts that our brain takes before it realizes its been fooled?
There Is No Offline
I’ve proposed that in a world of connected devices we’re arriving at a turning point in digital technology. I personally believe that this shift is more profound and will have a far deeper impact than the Internet as we’ve known it – no slouch itself when it comes to monumental change.
This turning point isn’t based on the number of nodes in the network, or the amount of data we’ll be able to collect, or that we’ll get to work faster because of sensors in the road.
The ambient and invisible will power new efficiencies, it will make our homes more comfortable because we won’t have to fiddle with the heat, and will make us more energy efficient because the smart grid will move power around in an intelligent way.
For me, the pivot goes beyond making the industrial era more efficient. Because we’ve arrived at the removal of the last boundaries between the digital and the physical.
Because from this point on, there is NO OFFLINE.
Now, I’m the first to admit (and be worried) that the thin edge of this statement is the difference between there being nowhere left to hide and the more magical and humanizing possibilities that arise from the merging of physical and digital.
But the British Airways billboard, while hiding some smart technology, is actually pointing out what Teller calls that shortcut of the brain.
Our minds have constructed a perception of the world in which online and offline are two different things. But in a world of iBeacon and connected devices, reality has changed.
The alternate title to my talk about Bluetooth LE is this:
I once was blind….and now I see.
Because technology has been given eyes – to watch us, sure. But also to sense the world around it and to start creating relationships with the physical.
There is no offline not because there’s nowhere to hide, but because the digital is like the child in the poster: exploring, looking up, and beginning to engage.
In a world of beacons we’re not at the beginning of a time when transactions are smarter or phones will ship us coupons as we walk down the aisle of the store.
We’re at the beginning of a new form of magic. A time where we challenge the mind’s gap, the perceptual conditioning in which the digital is a thing on a screen while around us the world itself has become the interface, the channel, the place where we might say “how” but, if done right, will also elicit those small moments of “wow”.
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