The number of ‘digital’ screens we view every day and the sheer amount of diverse content we consume through those screens can feel overwhelming at times. How our experiences of those screens and the content we consume through them (more the latter, as screens may become antiquated) are brought together, consolidated and streamlined is the great frontier of innovation in technological development and user interface design, I believe.
The unification of experience is the term I’ll use to describe the unrealized ideal of a trend toward the coalescence of our experiences through those screens (though I’ll limit the discussion to ‘digital’ screens, as opposed to traditional ‘screens’ like book pages and canvases).
The screens I personally interact with regularly are: my personal laptop, my netbook, my personal monitor, the other personal monitor/LCD my friend loaned me, my work laptop, my work monitor, various other screens I use at work (the LCDs I use on the walls of meeting rooms and the projector in the screening room), my smart phone, and the TV in my living room.
I admit, though — I probably interact with a lot more screens than the average person. Still, according to recent research by the Council for Research Excellence (recently cited by CBS), “The average American adult now spends 8-1/2 hours a day staring into screens.” That’s not an insignificant amount of time, and chances are that those interactions aren’t limited to a single screen.
As both the number of screened devices people use and the time they spend with those devices increases, the unification of experience becomes an increasingly important idealization of a trend — and one that the titans of media and technology are seeking to attain at an ever faster clip through varying strategies and tactics.
3 Approaches That Could Work
While there are a host of innovators aiming to attain the unification of experience through myriad tacks, there are only a few avenues that I think are truly viable. Even these, though, are harried by obstacles that lead me to believe it’s unlikely that any single one of these strategies will ever have the opportunity to fully succeed.
The Cloud, Ubiquitous Broadband & Inter-Operable Languages. Companies like VMWare, Cisco and IBM (among others) are laying the groundwork for a computing future in ‘the cloud’, while the FCC pushes policies to expand the scope and speed of broadband coverage in the United States. These trends, in tandem with development and dissemination of inter-operable computer languages, could be factors that facilitate the perfect storm of tech that would ultimately lead to (something like) the unification of experience naturally. Simply put, the cloud provides an external place where programs, content and even computing can live, while users are free to move from device to device and have similar experiences that are delivered via the internet. Think Google Apps, but broader. The adoption of a singular inter-operable language (which is dominating certain niches of cross-platform communication — e.g., Flash vs HTML5), while less likely, would augment the cloud and broadband’s strides toward the unification of experience.