Autism spectrum disorder can be both a curse and a blessing. As one of the fastest growing diagnoses in America today, everyone knows someone with ASD: a brother, a cousin, or simply one of the kids from school. Some of the kindest, most wonderful people I have encountered are labeled autistic. That does not mean that they do not have their challenges. Two of the biggest are communication and social isolation. Emerging technology, it seems has the potential to help.
If you have an Apple device (iPhone or iPad), chances are you are familiar with Siri. That snarky, less-than-helpful service that no one ever uses. Siri can be an autistic boy’s best friend, able to endlessly discuss topics and provide information. One of the hallmarks of autism is narrow fascination with obscure topics. Siri’s limitations also force children to enunciate clearly, aiding in language development.
Difficulties in communication also make human interaction difficult. Social media sites, however, provide a sort of level playing field for individuals with ASD. One group is developing a social network for autistic children, one that provides for them a platform to discuss issues specific to them, such as bullying and the lack of social acceptance. Everyone has the right to fit in. If social media can connect us to old high school friends, then it can connect like-minded individuals.
In my last post, I complained about the lack of penetration of emerging media beyond marketing. Emerging media has tremendous potential to reshape our lives, like the wheel, and connect people in new ways. One of the frontiers for emerging media should be in the classroom. Let’s face it: a lot of what goes on in America’s classrooms has not changed much in 50 years. If emerging media can be integrated with education, the future may be much more than rote memorization and the three R’s.
Children are the most adaptable. Their minds remain flexible, and if emerging media is transform society, making ubiquitous for children will make it second nature, beyond whatever social media site is du jour. IBM lists ten emerging technologies they foresee as revolutionizing education, everything from cloud computing to wearable technology.
MIT is developing ScratchJr, a programming language specifically designed for children between the ages of 5 and 7. This is huge leap forward from Pascal. Kindergarteners, by learning to code, are learning to think in new ways. Researchers claim that coding is a new type of writing. There is a feedback loop here, where children are instinctively learning new ways to think, by visualizing through the creation of interactive games and stories.
I read somewhere that the Industrial Revolution marked the most profound change in human history since the advent agriculture, making the last two hundred years vastly different from the previous nine thousand. Emerging media, I believe, has the potential to equally revolutionize human society. Yet the emerging media I am consciously aware of in my daily life seems so restrictive.
Ball State University, it seems, has a major course of study in emerging media. Their slickly produced YouTube video lists a range of projects that make me want to join the revolution: reactive architecture, eye tracking, digital fabrication, thermwood milling, and digital modeling are just some of the cutting-edge technologies they tout.
It seems that, were I not actively studying emerging media, my exposure would be little more than 3-D animation and motion capture, and a lot of that through the Planet of the Apes films. Or is it just that cellphones, social media sites, webcasts, and digital television (hello Hulu) have become so ubiquitous that I fail to notice the truly cutting edge? Yet at the same time, I wonder if emerging media is so revolutionary, that no one has figured out what to do with it other than marketing? All of this connectivity has to have more potential than simply selling to people 24/7.
Let’s face it: the elephant in the tech room in 2015 is the Apple Watch. With Apple, the digital divide is stark. There are those who love with a capital L everything that comes out of Cupertino, and those who avoid Apple like the second coming of Big Brother. Apple does present a sleek product, and encourages multiple devices. Anyone who has an iPhone, an iPad, and iMac find that they all wirelessly connect.
It does make sharing photos easy.
Apple at least understands how to market a product, even if the product itself is not quite as necessary to survival as they would have you believe. Of course, the entire product reeks of a Tim Cook obsession with Dick Tracy’s Two-Way Wrist Communicator. I just hope that Pruneface is not on the other end. It would seem that tech companies have wanted such a device ever since Chester Gould dreamed it up in 1946.
But perhaps the more important part of the Apple Watch is not that you need one, but Apple is making it so that you want one. They are stylish and sleek, and they do far more than simply tell time, like tract your fitness and use Apple Pay. But with a price tag ranging from $350 to $17,000, one must wonder if these are truly a life-changing emerging technology, or another way Apple separates you from your money. If nothing else, Apple proves it is the master marketer.
It is well known that any new media will quickly be adopted by pornography. It was true of photography in the 1800s, of film in the early part of the 20th century, and home video in the 1980s. Cruising the Internet makes it easy to find porn. Lots of porn. There’s even a meme for it: Rule 34.
Interesting then, social media has overtaken porn as the number 1 online activity. The Web 2.0 allows users to generate and share content, and it seems that business are climbing on the bandwagon created by customers. People want to connect with others in more than just that one particular way. One of the biggest concerns for social media is user-generated porn, a problem on Vine, and potentially on Meerkat.
Emerging media has the potential to reverse the trend of porn taking over the Internet. Part of it is efforts like Make Love, Not Porn, and part of it is the ability of social media sites to regulate their own content. In cases like revenge porn, users are able to identify offenders and report them, acting like deputies in the Wild West that is often social media. These actions allow social media to stay ahead of the curve, quickly responding to demands, as opposed to simply letting pornography clog up the Internet. If indeed more people are looking at social media than porn, it may just be that the Internet is finally growing up after all.
Social media is, in my opinion, often less about the social than it is about the media. Yes, it’s great to see pictures of your cousin’s vacation in Aruba, but it is often difficult to have a conversation about how jealous you really are. However, the emerging popularity of messaging apps is proving new fields for marketers already accustomed to being on Facebook.
Young Americans especially are spending more time on messaging apps than social media, sites like Kik, Snapchat, and even Facebook messenger. Kik, for example, leads in engagement among 14 to 17 years olds. However, what is important to remembers is that 90 percent of social media users interact with brands on messaging apps as well as social media platforms.
The potential for marketers in the messaging app platform is only now being realized. The ability to have one-on-one conversations with customers builds not only brand loyalty, but also a personal relationship. These platforms can be personalized, allowing the company to sell directly to the customer, and private enough for users to feel secure, not just another faceless recipient of spam. Messaging apps also allow companies to expand their use of QR codes. Snapchat, for example, recently bought Scan.me, which now allows them to create a unique QR code for every user. The potential is unlimited.
Given that social media has a tendency to appear like boy bands, hot for 15 minutes and then on to obscurity, I find it fascinating that Facebook remains “the most used new communications media for public relations,” capturing that title since 2009. Facebook at times appears to have been taken over by the middle aged, reminding me of that commercial where the two guys in the elevator are gushing over Woo Woo in the morning, but by the afternoon are on to something else. “Nah man, my Mom’s on Woo Woo.”
Ask any middle school student, and they all seem to be on Kik or Snapchat. Younger people seem to have departed Facebook, and its sister site Instagram, in droves. It is true that Facebook’s profile is greying; with the largest percentage share increase expected among users 65+, and the biggest drop among those ages 18-24.
Yet for all of the attention that Millennials receive in terms of advertising, one wonders is the reality of the economy does not mean that PR firms understand where the buying power is. As long as grandmothers continue to flock to Facebook, companies are smart in recognizing where the growing market segments are, continuing to develop effective marketing campaigns that keep Facebook as the giant among social media sites.