Tuesday, September 21, 2010

We Are All Semi-Geeks Now

Waiting on a friend in a bar the other night, I noticed that all of the conversations going on simultaneously at the three nearest tables (it was a small bar: everyone was pretty close together) were all about tech and/or social media. Now this was not a high-tech, early-adopter crowd, it was a typical off-Grafton Street Thursday night shopping crowd.

One woman was showing her friend how to use Facebook on her smartphone and explaining how she could use to keep up with a greater number of her friends far more effectively and (this was really emphasised) without paying mobile operator text messaging fees.

At table two, an American guy was explaining the concept of the Slingbox product and service to his Irish friends and wondering why it was not available over here. (A good question.) He was using it to keep up to date with the fourth series of Mad Men from his Irish hotel room.

Finally, at the third table, a woman was quizzing her companion about apps on her iPhone and in the iTunes Store: “How come there were so many of them?” and “Does Apple make them all?”.

OK, so a lot of these people were learning more about, or grappling with, the tech, rather than geeking-out about it. Lets call them semi-geeks. Even so, it is fascinating to me how quickly these sorts of pretty geeky conversations – that were very early-adopter niche topics on the TWiG, TWiT and MacBreak Weekly podcasts* as recently as two years ago – have now completely tipped over into the mainstream. So much of this is driven by the utility and ubiquity of the revitalised smartphone marketplace.

I know this is anecdotal and based on a sample of one, but even in the midst of the most crippling recession, the amount of smartphones I am seeing around me in Dublin is growing week-on-week. Five years ago I seemed to be the only person on the morning commute with a PDA, tapping out blog posts on my Palm in Graffiti Script with a stylus. Now most commuters are reading, writing or viewing on some class of smartphone device. That is a massive reversal in a short time period.

As all of this technology and software filters out to a far wider demographic beyond the early adopters and the corporate users, it surely puts evolutionary pressure on both hardware and software creators to simplify and clarify everything they do.

Listening to those conversations, I can see that something like the idealised version of the notional ‘Facebook phone’ would be so appealing to so many people. It could be as easy as buying the phone, logging-in to Facebook and having immediate access to all of their contacts and content. It would not appeal to me, but could be a seriously compelling proposition for all of those semi-geeks out there.

*Actually, how MacBreak Weekly effectively morphed into iPhone Weekly, and how This Week in Google is far more like This Week in Android these days, is another blog post altogether...