Technology

Tech in 2015: Let's Turn Down the Hype Machine

By / Dec 23, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Over the next few weeks, you’re going to hear a lot of hype about up-and-coming technologies to watch in 2015—including from me. Before you dig in too deep, however, here’s some advice on how to temper your perspective with your association’s needs.

The prognosticators—complete with pointy hats—were out in full force at the ASAE Technology Conference & Expo last week in National Harbor, Maryland. And they had a lot of interesting insights and predictions.

C-Suite Wizards Consult Their Magic Crystals” perhaps had the best title for any of the individual conference sessions, and the insights were pretty brilliant. I dug the sentiments—shared by Impact Makers Association Practice Lead Rick Johnston, CAE, American College of Cardiology CIO Dino Damalas, and ASAE CMCO Robb Lee—on the rise of automation, the internet of things, augmented reality, and big data.

All of these things have their place—and I’ve written about each of these topics over the past two-plus years.

But, having had a little time to let my brain stew over what I got from the session, I keep coming to this main point: Innovation needs context. Context for your organization, as well as context in the broader world. Otherwise, buzzwords like “big data” and “internet of things” are just that—words that buzz.

So, as I end 2014, I’d like to have a conversation with you guys about technology, hype, and realism. Let’s get real.

Filling the Knowledge Gaps

While we’re talking about bigger trends, are small but important things getting missed along the way?

In making his predictions, Damalas mentioned the potential for associations and automation, specifically highlighting the do-anything web app IFTTT (If This, Then That).

I came into the session thinking the 3-year-old web app was starting to feel a little old hat, as much as I love it. (Part of that might be inspired by my recent discovery of Workflow, an iOS-based tool with similarly impressive capabilities.)

Which is why I was surprised, when Damalas asked the audience if they had heard of IFTTT, that few people besides me raised their hands. When I tweeted about the surprising response in the room, I got a few equally surprised reactions—and found a couple of fellow IFTTT fanatics at the conference. Maybe it was just the audience in the room?

Either way, the episode makes me wonder what else is out there that works now, but simply needs more exposure in this sector. A refrain I heard more than a few times during Tech was that “association technology is a few years behind everyone else.” The best way to fill that gap might be through added exposure to current trends—not just upcoming ones.

Don’t get me wrong—drones are cool, I want to borrow Reggie Henry’s 3D printer, and Bluetooth beacons could have a dramatic effect on the events industry—but some of the best opportunities to help associations might be in uncovering existing technologies with purely practical uses.

(I admit to being curious about where you think the gaps are in association tech—shoot me an email or tweet if you have any thoughts. I’d love to make an effort to fill in the gaps on my blog in 2015.)

Mainstream Failure, Niche Success?

Last week at National Harbor, a couple people asked me about Google Glass—due to the fact that I donned a pair at the 2013 conference—wondering where I had placed the glasses. My answer: I left them at home because I thought they were awkward.

So when the wearables issue came up during the magic crystals session, I raised my hand and offered an honest take: There’s a good chance wearables may not go mainstream, but even if they don’t, they may still have significant niche value for trade groups. And that’s a general point with applications far beyond the wearables sector.

The “consumerization” of technology, as it’s been called, often has created a tendency for associations to look at what the public is using and automatically assume there’s a use case for them.

But what if that’s the other way around? What if the perceived failures—to use an example from a prior decade, the Segway—are just big ideas aimed at the wrong market? What if, instead of changing the world of transportation, the Segway was always meant to be a great utility for police officers?

If that’s the case, how do we tell the people creating these technologies that they’re looking at the wrong market? Associations have to be willing to see what’s out there, then make the case.

The Answers Won’t Always Be Clear

Last week, The New Yorker published a piece about an innovative material that’s been blowing minds for more than a decade, despite the fact that we’ve found very few practical uses for it.

Graphene, a pure form of carbon that’s just an atom thick, has inspired dreamers and tech proponents to think big about its potential. The problem is that potential doesn’t automatically lead to game-changing uses—unless you consider the rise of graphene tennis racquets game changing.

That’s fine. It just means that more research needs to happen. The material that gave Silicon Valley its name didn’t have much of a purpose in the period immediately following its discovery. Eventually, it found its place—as did another material commonly used in computers, aluminum.

“New discoveries face formidable challenges in the marketplace. They must be conspicuously cheaper or better than products already for sale, and they must be conducive to manufacture on a commercial scale,” author John Colapinto wrote. “If a material arrives, like graphene, as a serendipitous discovery, with no targeted application, there is another barrier: the limits of imagination. Now that we’ve got this stuff, what do we do with it?”

Likewise, the buzzed-about trends that filled social media feeds in 2014 and will likely do the same in 2015 won’t always have immediate applications for your association. But you should know that the technologies exist, that they’re worth keeping an eye on, and that they could come with huge potential down the line.

Who knows—in five years, Google (or a competitor) might find a way to combine graphene and wearable computers and, as a result, come up with something everyone wants.

Crazier things have happened.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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