Make Analogue Great Again.

Screen time. It has become a new life metric. Like the number of calories that should be consumed as part of a healthy diet (2,000 for women, 2,500 for men). Or the number of steps we should take in a day (10,000). The difference is that it’s very easy to achieve high numbers on screen time… And it isn’t necessarily all that good for our physical and mental health.

According to data collated by Datareportal, the average internet user now spends 6 hours and 43 minutes online on any device each day, a figure that creeps up to almost 10 hours in some countries, like the Philippines and South Africa. And yes, this does include work-and-study-related browsing, but a further breakdown of the numbers reveals that we spend an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes per person, per day using Social Media, multi-networking across 8 social networks and messaging apps.

Digital platforms and devices have connected us in ways that were never imaginable before. For example, they’ve started and powered important conversations on Social Media (from #MeToo to #BlackLivesMatter) and opened up a universe of creative disruption and innovation with platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. And we have the Internet to thank for keeping us sane, functional, entertained and connected during the Covid-19 lockdown, from FaceTime with grandparents to our favourite meals and groceries brought contact-free to our door by apps and services like Deliveroo and Amazon.

But this world of endless possibilities comes at a price: our societies have developed a true digital dependence. According to Ofcom, people in the UK check their smartphones, on average, every 12 minutes of the waking day. Indeed, for almost 65% of under 35s, it is the first thing they do when they wake up. So we are always on, constantly shifting our focus from one notification to the next… In other words, the very opposite of being focused and present.

However, just because digital is so pervasive, it does not mean it is the only way forward. Indeed, there are brands swimming against the current, inspired by analogue to reintroduce simplicity and meaning to consumers’ lives.

Lockdown… For smartphones. 

One way to do this is to take things to the extreme, by giving consumers the impetus and the tools to make the conscious decision to disconnect entirely. This is precisely what Block does. It is a portable, modern version of the Faraday Cage – a mesh-wrapped electromagnetic-proof shield – capable of holding up to 7 smartphones and blocking out any incoming or outgoing signals and distractions.

The brand also collaborated with 3D Designer Tim van der Wiel and audio designers KLOAQ to make the concept of digital dependency visible, audible and therefore more tangible. The result is a series of 3 videos – Signals– that capture the strange, disturbing essence of the communication waves that surround and overwhelm us.

The cage itself toys with the digital/analogue boundary: the sleek, simple aluminium hexagon is reminiscent of modern tech devices and might lead one to think it is battery operated, but it actually works based on physics, with the electromagnetic shield forming simply by closing Block’s lid.

An even more analogue example is Google’s Paper Phone, an app that lets users choose the key information needed for the day – such as calendar invites, to-do lists and key contacts – and produces a printable, foldable booklet that replaces the phone

A bridge between worlds.  

Another approach is to create a clear, appealing segue from digital to analogue, to use the former to connect with consumers, and then invite them to take the experience into a meaningful and interactive offline space.

With shops, restaurants and other public places worldwide being forced to close to limit the spread of the virus, digital touchpoints have proven key to engaging with consumers from a distance. But, just because contact and movement are restricted, it does not mean brands have to remain locked within the confines of a screen.

Burger King France has managed to stay present in the homes (and hearts) of consumers without breaking any social distancing rules by sharing the recipes for making Whoppers and other BK classics through a series of stop-motion videos on Twitter. In so doing, the brand stays top of mind and builds loyalty through its Social Media communication strategy, and it also gives consumers a friendly, helpful nudge to go offline and rediscover cooking and the flavours they are missing.

The bridge between digital and analogue can also be successfully encapsulated in a product. Playdate is a pocket-sized, handheld gaming console that will be launched later this year, and has a very different take on the hyper-connected, ultra-realistic and super-immersive virtual gaming world. For starters, its screen is stripped back to beautifully basic black and white; but its most striking design feature is the crank, a rotating analogue controller that puts a whole new spin on games.

The console will come with twelve bespoke video games – all secret for now – and will be released on a weekly basis. This purposefully slows down the experience with bite-sized moments that let users enjoy each game to the full, before delighting them with a new one.

Digital is a part of our lives. It is impossible and illogical to imagine a future (or our locked-down present!) without it. But that does not mean it should reign supreme. In fact, it can be argued that this would actually limit our ability to connect and engage, both among each other and with brands. And if there is one thing that the Coronavirus crisis has taught us, it’s that limitations get old, fast!

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