What Ancient Tools & Modern Technology Have in Common

What can a longbow and a smartphone or PC possibly have in common? They are tools of survival. A longbow in a developed nation in the West would be largely useless and if you started shooting at things in public you’d likely end up in jail. A smartphone is incredibly useful. It is the context of the tool in the age that joins them.
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In this context, it is important for any technology startup developing hardware and in some cases software, to understand the place of the device in the context of the tool being used and it’s purpose. There are tools of purpose and there are tools of convenience and those of stature. Today, a smartphone fits all three. This makes it incredibly difficult to launch a new tool into the modern market.
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Many millennia ago, a person might need an axe, knife and bow to survive. As humanity progressed, we changed the tools we needed to survive.
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In today’s society, survival in terms of social advancement and day to day living, relies less on tools of violence and more on those of information. Hence we live in the Information Age. You don’t need to take a hunting knife to the local supermarket to get a steak. But you might use a smartphone to search for the best deal on steak at a store near you. Then as you hop in your car, you use an app on the car dashboard to find the quickest route to the store to avoid traffic. You might then use your smartphone or smartwatch to pay for the steak.
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If you’re developing a new piece of connected hardware, an IoT device, you’ll want to consider its role as a tool. Does it impact survival, improve social stature or make life more convenient? The third one, convenience is the weakest and toughest of them all. For they all relate to a product being a need or a want; a fundamental of marketing. A product that is a need will always sell more than a want.
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So it is with a device. No matter how good it looks, at the end of the day, it needs to relate to the primal brain. Don’t forget, most people are still afraid of spiders and snakes. That is a lizard brain reaction that still exists.
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The smartphone was so successful because it came along at just the right time as modern society evolved into this phase of our social development; the rise of the internet, wifi and better data transmission through mobile networks. Also because the PC had evolved enough for people not to need to know programming to use one and the cost was dropping.
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As you look to develop a product, think beyond just the “need” and “want” of the marketing aspect and consider it’s place in our primal brain; survival, stature and convenience.
Note:
Giles Crouch is a digital anthropologist, digital behavioural economist and polymath. He helps companies connect technology innovations with a market in real and meaningful ways. In other words, so they don’t lose a lot of money and make some profit.
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