As different as all these products may be, they have one goal in common: They want us to need them. They want us to feel like leveling up the amount of technology in our everyday life is a given, not just a possibility. But what we need isn’t smartening up our life at any cost—what we need is to get back to basics and think about what we actually need.
I recently joined iFixit EU’s Team because I think the world needs fixing—not just its devices, but also its ways of thinking.
I admit that I used to be a big fan of the idea of fully tech-ing up your life. As a child, I loved the Star Trek universe and wanted to live inside of it. They have a machine that immediately gives you any food you want—what more do I have to say? But as I grew up, it just didn’t feel right anymore. Now, I love cooking way too much not to do it myself. I just like doing things myself in general, instead of having it all done by a machine.
Sometimes the thought of our world being more and more technological feels like losing control and self-determination. It can be a terrifying thought, and I’m totally not alone in it. One of my favorite events at this year’s CES was GfK consumer research association’s presentation of their recent research on a new group of people called smart lifers. Smart lifers are people my age, growing up in a world that’s becoming more and more digital. They own smartphones, fitness watches, and smart home assistants, but they also share my concerns—they don’t want as much technology in their lives, even though CES is trying to sell us otherwise. Instead, they want to be less online—disconnect to reconnect with face-to-face social interaction and in-person experiences.
Smart lifers also tend to be more critical of technology: On one hand they are pretty interested in technology in general. On the other, they feel overwhelmed by the world becoming more and more complex due to the influx of AI and smart assistants. Their trust in technology is decreasing.
Of course there are more than just social consequences to thinking people need more (smart) devices. Environmental impacts. Scarcity of resources. Tons of e-waste.
And if it’s true that many people don’t even want that much technology, it’s even more alarming to see it all at CES. It’s almost like an exhibition of all the future e-waste, invented for a quick profit but already making its death march to the landfill.
So, for me, true innovation isn’t trying to outdo others by being the “smartest” tech in the room. It’s not innovative to generate entirely new customer needs. We need people who think further and explore uncharted ways to fill existing needs—both of customers and of the world as a whole.