A friend recently asked if I remembered what AOL stood for. It was funny to recall that not only did AOL actually stand for “America On Line,” but that there was also a time when we believed that society’s most important technological shift was one from the world of physical goods and services to one of virtual goods and services.
During this period a slew of online-focused technologies were developed. We could buy music through iTunes, interact with long-lost friends through social networks like Facebook, and even create alternative personas on games like Second Life (however weird that was…). The virtual world was allowing us to do things we might never have accomplished in real life.
However, some years later we’re blurring the distinction between the online and offline worlds. What excites me most about innovation today is the effect it can have on how we engage with the world around us, from the way we connect with others, to the way we shop or even how we travel.
Apps like Highlight allow users to instantly know who the people around them are, if they have any friends in common and whether they share any interests. Imagine how much more entertaining a four-hour train ride from New York to Boston would be if you knew that the woman sitting next to you was your sister’s roommate from college, or an avid fan of your favorite artist? This pushing of relevant and personalized information to us, wherever we are, will supplement our experiences.
In the commercial sphere we can see plenty of examples of companies using this integration to powerful effect. Supermarket chain Tesco plastered a Seoul subway station platform with full-scale images of their grocery store, allowing shoppers to purchase items for their dinner while on their daily commute. The only difference from a traditional store was that instead of placing an item in a grocery cart and carrying it home, shoppers could scan QR codes that placed items in a delivery truck that dropped their order off later that night. With this campaign, Tesco saw its online sales increase by nearly 130% as it became the No. 1 store in the country. Earlier this year we also saw startup Monolith launch, aiming to be the Google Analytics of the offline world. By tracking what people are watching on TVs and digital billboards, it hopes to provide valuable reporting for the billions of dollars spent each year on offline advertising.
Finally, in the travel industry, personal identification tools are making waves. In just two years we could be using iris recognition to check in for flights, following the first successful trial of the technology at Gatwick Airport. A passenger is photographed through security and, with this stored information, their identity is verified by the image of their iris as they pass through the airport. This could halve the time needed to get from check-in to the plane door, whether it’s the new Airbus or Elon Musk’s rocket to Mars! We’re just at the beginning of exploring how technology can enrich the connections we make and improve our everyday offline lives, so we’ve undoubtedly got a lot to look forward to.
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Ruzwana Bashir is the Creative Braintrust Tech Expert and Co-Founder & CEO of Peek.com