Many individuals are wary of technology because of the perceived invasion of privacy. How can our use of technology, which may put us at risk, help protect us?
Q&A with the Authors
Christina: Technology can help protect us by giving us tools and capabilities to fill in the blindspots it sometimes creates. For example, one of the key challenges facing the parents we studied was their inability to keep an eye on their kids’ online activities and communications as kids and their devices become more mobile. Services like Kajeet or My Mobile Watchdog allow parents to keep track of their kids, monitor their text messages, and receive alerts when kids exchange information that's out of bounds or with unknown people. Even social media has been used to help spread the word when a child goes missing. Recently, some parents were able to track down their college student who'd gone missing in Malaysia using Facebook. From half-way around the world, they were able to make contact with locals who found their son hiking in a national park.
Beyond the safety issue, technology can help by using our context and preferences to deliver timely information so we can make better decisions. Diabetics could have an app on their phone that pushes low-glycemic options from the menu as soon as they enter a restaurant. Technology multiplies all the options and information surrounding us, but it can also help us cut through the clutter to get what we need. In Identity Shift, you discuss the differences as one matures through the life stages (teen, emerging adult, parent, etc.) as the individual approaches technology. What about generational differences (Baby Boomers, GenX, Millennials)? Can you expand on the implication technology might have as viewed through a generational lens?
Allison: Generations are interesting in that, like the human beings that represent them, they are mortal. When the last GenX'er dies, my entire generation will cease to exist. That’s powerful and, when you add that to the fact that what makes a generation are the cultural defining moments that bind us together during our formative years, you have a powerful cocktail that helps explain why many find identification with their generation irresistible. Attitudes toward technology are no different. To understand how a generation values technology, you have to first understand how a generation perceives its identity. Boomers are the consummate idealists, therefore technology serves their purpose of reinvention. Xers are the ultimate survivalists. For them, technology is about adaptation to their environment. And, Millennials are the perennial collaborators. For them, technology is about unification. Our study reveals these unique perspectives when exploring generational attitudes, but it exposes even more interesting nuances when comparing what happens as one experiences rites of passage through maturity. For example, Millennials may share a common understanding in how they approach technology. But, a Millennial just graduating college has very different perspectives and priorities compared to one who is a recent parent. In our book, we explore how maturational forces create shifts in our worldview and how technology serves to support or confuse the identity we seek to create. A significant part of the research that went into this book involved observing individuals’ use of technology in their home environments. What surprised you the most about this ethnography study?
Allison: What I found most revealing is that we as human beings are not rational as much as we rationalize. What I mean is, what we think, say, do and value can often be in conflict with each other. And, to feel better with the cognitive dissonance that results, we delude ourselves with convenient excuses to rationalize our seemingly inexplicable behavior. The fact that we can unknowingly be self-deceived raises a bevy of issues and complexities when exploring the identity topic. But, it is in these gray areas where technology providers and marketers can perhaps find the most opportunity, simply by understanding the tension points and conflicts that occur naturally as consumers respond to their environment. Technology and social media are constantly evolving, and yet they align with the consumer-based 3-P Model of Identity you discuss in your book. Can you give us some examples of new Web 2.0 trends or technologies and how they relate to research findings discussed in the book?
Christina: A key trend shaping new service creation will be identity management across all three areas we talk about in the book – presentation, preference and protection. That management isn’t going to be about just hiding personal data, but about giving consumers insight and control and allowing them to use it for their own purposes. There are companies like Reputation.com and Personal.com, which aim to pull information about consumers into a central repository where they can get a dashboard of their virtual selves. They try to help consumers answer key questions. What image of me exists online? How do I manage and change it so it lines up with the image I want to present? How do I monitor what people know about me and my kids so we can protect ourselves? How do I get information to the right people if I decide I want them to have access?
Sharing data appropriately is a big part of consumer control. If I have my data in a secure place, I can then share it with trusted parties – to get recommendations, discover new services and products from friends, and streamline commerce online and on mobile. An application like Spotify is a basically a central depot for music preferences that helps people access their content across devices, but also lets them exchange likes and dislikes with friends, which leads to new content discovery and increased content consumption. Bringing clarity and cohesion to our identities online will facilitate more exchange and create new revenue opportunities across all aspects of our lives – not just music and media. What are the implications of the research you conducted for service providers and other companies catering to online consumers? What can they take away from your book?
Allison: Just about anyone can take something away from this book. Thanks in no small part to the dozens of ethnography respondents who graciously and selflessly invited us into their homes and lives, the reader will likely catch glimpses of him/herself in the stories of these subjects. For marketers and other providers, what is clear is that trust is the intangible currency of the networked-community age. Gaining or losing trust becomes a mercurial process as the relationship between consumer and company evolves. Those marketers able to offer more targeted services to consumers while navigating the trust fault line stand to gain. It is at this fascinating intersection where individual identity meets company identity that defines the unique boundaries for providers based on the permissions a user is willing to proffer in a given situation. It certainly is rich with nuance. But, then again, aren’t we all as human beings?
About the Author
Allison Cerra is Vice President of Marketing, Communications, and Public Affairs for Alcatel-Lucent in the Americas Region. She has 15+ years of marketing, sales, and product management experience.
Christina James is a Director of Solutions Marketing at Alcatel-Lucent. Her more than 15 years of experience include marketing and communications in the technology sector.
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