What will the smartphone exterminate next?

The phenomenon of the obsolete product has become more and more prevalent in our times. As the growth and development of technology expands exponentially many many products are left trailing in the wake of newer, faster, shinier, and ever more capable equipment. Above all other developments it is the smartphone that has rapidly, repeatedly advanced and in doing so doomed a range of other products to obsolescence.

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Obsolescence is the condition of passing out of use or usefulness despite remaining in good working order or able to serve purpose. This passing occurs primarily in two ways; planned and technical. Planned obsolescence is a business strategy whereby a product is designed to fail within a certain amount of time, creating a need for the consumer to replace that product. This creates repeat business and, where technology is concerned, assumes that within that time advances will have occurred and a new version of that product will be available, consumers are induced to upgrade. Technical obsolescence is a process of becoming obsolete that is the result of technological advances rendering a product less useful or less convenient, a new product superseding the old.

Examples of technical obsolescence abound in our society, ever obsessed as we are with the newest version. Ultimately, we seek convenience through these advancements, which is leading a drive for the condensation of products and services. Additionally products must be simpler and smaller so they can perform on-the-go to suit our frantic, ambulatory lifestyles. To summarise, convenience is key so absolutely everything must be portable.

The way that we use phones, for example, has changed dramatically in the 40 years since Motorola first demonstrated the use of a handheld mobile phone in 1973. Mobile phones are now dominant to the extent that we are beginning to see the decline of the landline. Young people moving into new homes reportedly eschew landlines in favour of sole use of their personal phones. Furthermore the unstoppable rise of the smartphone has made the mobile phone the epitome of the multitasking product, our phones are now so much more than a telephone. Able to organise our lives with calendars and alarms they eliminate the need for standalone versions of products. In many functions the smartphone not only supplants but vastly improves upon a product it is replacing. Smartphones don’t just make maps as we knew them accessible anywhere but also make them easily searchable, able to find and use your current location, will remember locations you frequent and can even provide custom travel routes. All this just from the maps application, it’s no wonder that a veritable host of products are being rendered obsolete by the smartphone.

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The relentless move towards obsolescence for those products the smartphone replaces sees a minor, momentary stalling in the current need to strike a balance between capability and size for the smartphone. At once we desire the smartphone to function as any product you might conceivably need, and still fit into a pocket. So some struggle is seen in developing smaller versions of features like the camera and, most vitally, the battery which remain durable and of a high quality. In addition as the phone does more the most desirable size for the screen to be is tested and debated. The product must remain excessively portable and yet we also require a certain size of screen in order for viewing photos, videos, documents etc pleasantly.

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All in all, alongside the rise of the smartphone to dominance we see an increase in the number of products rendered obsolete by this one unbelievably convenient gadget. Undoubtedly we will see many more products fall at the hands of the smartphone before it suffers the fate of technical obsolescence itself, an event which is certainly a long long way off. For the moment we can only hope to trust the intransigence of the retro and revival brigades to allow us continuing enjoyment of products that are in the unstoppable process of becoming obsolete.

What do you think the smartphone will eliminate next?

LinkedIn takes the ‘work’ out of networking

LinkedIn has released Connected, a new app which replaces the now year old Contacts, announcing the app in a blog post on 10th July. Connected expands on the function of Contacts by helping to keep you updated with news from your network more easily as well as aiding in the expansion of your connections. The new app blends highlights from your network with notifications like those from the desktop version of LinkedIn so that you can view information about your contacts in digestible cards. Connected aims to be much more interactive than Contacts and people with the old app will be prompted to upgrade.

In the past year LinkedIn has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to mobile and its belief that this is where the majority of users will be engaging. Mobile devices currently account for over 40% of LinkedIn’s traffic with this figure expected to pass 50% this year, indicating that this commitment has far from been in vain. Connected is the social media site’s 6th standalone app, the 3rd in just 3 months, joining Slideshare and Job Search, the former of which allows for mobile editing of slideshows and the latter on-the-go job hunting. The company has however been keen to make clear that it does not want to inundate users with a multitude of apps, although it will not be focusing on just the one. Joff Redfern, LinkedIn’s VP of Mobile summarised the attitude on which the company is engineering its apps in saying “We want to keep simple simple, so we build apps that are dedicated to specific use cases or experiences”, as can be seen with the last 3 apps released. Whilst this app is currently only available in english on iOS an android version is on its way.

The Connected app aims to “take the ‘work’ out of networking” by making this easier and more fun. The app will notify you of events like job changes, work anniversaries and mentions in the news which show up as swipeable cards which you are able to like or to comment upon. It will also invite you to browse potential new connections to encourage you to expand your network. Furthermore the app syncs with an array of calendars in order to send you timely push notifications and reminders, which will contain relevant information from LinkedIn about who you are meeting. The app might also remind you to connect with people who you have recently met, with the aim being to remove the need to remember to use LinkedIn, the app will infer what information you might want to see next.

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For the consumer the app aims to build and maintain relationships with people they are connected with on LinkedIn even when they are not actively looking for work, so that those professional relationships have already been cultivated when they are looking. In the company’s blog post announcing the release of the app Product Manager David Brubacher writes “We know you’d love to reach out and catch up with everyone in your network over coffee, but that isn’t always possible. Connected gives you relevant, and timely, reasons to reach out and keep in touch with people in your network”. Whilst this might serve a useful purpose, prompting people to maintain useful relationships that might otherwise be neglected it has been noted that the success of the app depends on whether people really do want to reach out to the people they are connected with when not interacting with these connections in a professional capacity.

For the company the new product is intended largely to increase user interaction. It has reported that the majority of users log in for just a few minutes each morning, between 6 and 10 am, in order to check for updates and look at key information on the people who they will be meeting with that day. Connected will bring updates and information to the user with push notifications to draw them into using the app more often. In this way the company aims to make LinkedIn a destination users visit, more akin to Facebook or Twitter, than to its current role as a tool. The launch of Connected is a part of LinkedIn’s overarching objective of becoming a kind of intelligent layer working on a contacts database, with a desire to work more in anticipatory computing, drawing upon artificial intelligence and big data to attempt to predict a users wants and needs.

You can download the app here.

The Social Shop attends London Anthropology Day 2014

We will start this post by making a short statement: Anthropology and the digital world are deeply connected. But how? The Social Shop team is obviously keen to understand a bit more about everything, and that’s why we decided to attend the London Anthropology Day 2014, held in the British Museum on 3rd July and organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute.

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Dr Paul Basu, lecturer and researcher at University College of London, UCL, and one of the event’s speakers, defined Anthropology as “an area of study that describes to others what it is to be human being”, finding out and exploring what it means to be human. Eric Wolf, an Austrian Anthropologist, said that Anthropology is “The most scientific of the humanities, the most humanistic of the sciences.”, clearly showing the link between social practices and empiric sciences. For over a century Anthropology studies the way that people connect with each other. However, it’s important to highlight that the way we connect has evolved completely through digital and social networking. So why not start talking about Digital Anthropology, and the way we dialogue through social network connections?

This annual event aims to show what it is like to study the subject at university and to have a career in Anthropology, but it’s also open to the general public, whoever is interested in learning a bit more about the area. Lecturers from universities across Britain as well as career advisers provide interactive workshops on biological and social anthropology, and we attended a couple of really interesting sessions.

 “The strangest people are WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic”, with Dr Jamie Tehrani, Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology of Durham University – @JJTehrani

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Tehrani suggests that people in western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic (“WEIRD”) cultures have a highly unusual social behaviour and psychological profile.  He also used some sort of game, The Twenty Statements Test, to show a room full of students how WEIRD they are. The image below shows how the game works.

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“How do Mobile Phones change the world?” with Dr Maxim Bolt, from the Department of African Studies and Anthropology, University of Birmingham.

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Bolt is an anthropologist specialised in labour, migration, borders, development and the social dynamics of money. In this workshop he showed us that mobile phones have changed our everyday lives, as well as they can be used to engage in politics, to participate in the economy and they can also affect relationships with other people. We are already used to the innovations in day-to-day life caused by the rise of smartphones, but in other parts of the world, such as in Africa, most people rely on much simpler technology, and do far more with it. Text messages create information networks: about cattle epidemics, crop prices, election violence, and political activism. ‘Mobile money’ is now stored on sim cards and sent by SMS. The workshop explored what is changing, and what stays the same, in the era of the mobile phone. The 2011 Riots in London and the political crisis in Egypt in that same year were given as examples by Bolt of how smartphones have helped us to protest politically. It is very clear how mobile phones have created new ways for people to be more social, private and intimate at the same time. We can see new forms of human social life by logging to social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and being able to see what’s going on in each other’s lives, relevant life events, to invite people for parties, and social events, to keep up with a wide flow of information.

As a conclusion, we understand the need of Anthropology to more fully embrace digital and cyborg culture in order to survive as a concrete and relevant discipline. It seems impossible to not realise the effects of cultural globalisation in new forms of social – and digital – life. We found London Anthropology Day a very enriching event, giving us a whole new understanding of ways for connecting and engaging through digital, for both businesses and individuals.

Social Media Opens Wimbledon to All

Wimbledon tournament has this year taken special steps to make its presence felt across many social media platforms to keep fans fully up to date with goings on on court and, more significantly, to encourage audience participation in the event.

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Far from using their Twitter and Facebook accounts just to keep fans informed of the basics, though this is undoubtedly a priority, content is built on an awareness that many people who wish to attend Wimbledon won’t have the chance due to such high demand for tickets. As such their use of social media centres on access and inclusion, with a YouTube channel that boasts glimpses of behind the scenes footage of the tournament as well as pre and post match interviews, not just with the athletes but also with famous faces in attendance.

Wimbledon’s official Facebook page is unsurprisingly popular, with currently over 2 million likes and climbing, and has earned an average page rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars. The tournament is also present on Google+ and athletes like reigning champion Andy Murray have used this to entreat fans to upload and share their own photos of the event, with Wimbledon’s account promising to publish the best to its own live feed.

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Social Media has been more integrated into the tournament generally this year. Although there is a focus on a desire to engage and involve those watching elsewhere there will also be screens showcasing user generated content within the grounds, especially at Murray Mound, to keep revellers informed and amused.

The tournament appears to be making fullest use of twitter by asking questions of fans and followers and using responses to generate graphics of opinion polls such as “Who will win a Grand Slam first? Tag #Kyrgios or #Dimitrov” and comparing views expressed on the hill to those of commentators elsewhere alongside in depth analysis of statistics. Furthermore hashtags such as #herestoperfection and #liveyoung from sponsors Stella Artois and Evian mean that the tournament is engaging audiences across a number of accounts offering differing perspectives.

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For a more humorous approach see the twitter account of Wimbledon pigeon catcher Rufus the Hawk who was attracting attention by commenting on other activity on twitter. For example Rufus weighed in on the hashtag #AskThicke which invited twitter users to question controversial pop star Robin Thicke, a stunt which was widely reported upon and trended worldwide.

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Broad and varied coverage of Wimbledon across a number of social media platforms has worked actively to aid and enhance the audience’s experience of the tournament this year allowing for extensive involvement in the event, whether you could be there or not!