Making magic feel normal
On Sunday morning, with my children insisting on watching the DVD of Horton Hears a Who for the gazillionth time, I watched the England v Georgia world cup rugby match on my laptop.
There was no fanfare. I didn’t need an instruction manual. I just searched for ‘ITV world cup rugby’, clicked and played. legal, live stream came all the way from New Zealand into my kitchen in rural Surrey. Magic.
Even though I spend my entire life online, there was something about the sheer ease and normality of this, and the way it ‘just worked’ that slightly took me back.
As my children were not at all interested in this, I tweeted, saying that ‘I’m still amazed when things like this actually work’; at which point the Guardian’s Josh Holliday responded ‘Me too…when it’s ITV’.
A bit snarky? Yes – but also an important point. We’re no longer in the world where only the BBC can a)feel the need to do a live internet stream of a big event b)be able to justify it financially and c)actually deliver it.
Good for ITV. Good for us as consumers.
Arthur C Clarke famously said that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. And, yes, after 20 years of the world wide web, the internet has reached that zone previously held by TV and radio and indeed electricity itself, where it is both completely magical and completely normal at the same time.
We take it completely for granted that you can type in any phrase, and instantly be told where it appears among the petabytes of data on servers across the world.
E-commerce, done well, has a feel of magic around it. You think. You search. You click. And the next day anything from a bag of pet-food to a sofa appears at your door.
Reading books on your kindle; downloading music onto your iPod; streaming movies through your games console; getting all the benefits of the internet in the palm of your hand, wherever you are in the world; or looking at a 360 degree view of a hotel room online, booking it and arriving and finding that everything has actually worked: all of these have a bit of magic to them, but all of them now also feel incredibly normal.
And all of the great businesses of our era: especially Apple, Amazon and Google are great, because day-in, day-out they succeed in making magic normal for millions of people around the world.
[Compare to the fallen idols of AOL and Yahoo! who now just make the normal seem, well, really quite normal]
All of this matters because huge, disruptive change is not the result of a small gang of bleeding edge technologists playing with the latest gadgets and gizmos.
It is the result of hundreds of millions of people around the world changing their everyday behaviour: they way they communicate, shop, and how they consume and create media.
These individual acts seem quite normal when they happen, but when they get put together they have the power to be massively disruptive.
Every mother-in-law who decides to do their Christmas shopping online, every plumber who uses Google Ad Words instead of Yell, every mum who watches a rom com through her PS3 [using LOVEFiLM, of course]: this is the stuff of change. And, there is much much more of it down the line.
Back to my children. They are now aged six and four. They don’t know what they internet is, just as they don’t know what electricity is. But they can find their way round the CBeebies website just as they can turn on a light or switch on the TV.
They use tablets and smartphones not because they’re new gadgets, or because they’re Apple or Android fans, but because they just enjoy the games. My daughter spends hours on Moshi Monsters not because she is into social networks, or interested in gamification, but because she just thinks the monsters and moshlings are cute.
This is all as much a part of their lives as running around in the playground, eating ice cream and demanding to have whatever plastic monstrosity they have just seen advertised on Nickleodeon or Boomerang.
This is their normal. Just as watching live rugby on a laptop is now mine. It is all a huge change from the world I once new, but I suspect it is just a pencil sketch of the world that we’re still heading towards.
There is still plenty of magic ahead.