Stan Davis emotional bandwidth revisited

In 1997 the futurist Stan Davis wrote a cracking article for Forbes Magazine called: What is your emotional bandwidth?

As the costs of storing and transmitting information go down, attention becomes scarcer. So how do you capture people’s attention in the Internet age?  One way is to engage people emotionally.

Davis writes about how technology would evolve to make much greater use of sounds and images (especially moving images) to gain our attention – and how technology will sense how we look and feel.

The essay can be found here:

Stan Davis essay

So 21 years later how do Davis’s predictions compare to the world of today and tomorrow?

Views on the original essay

Davis is clearly in love with technology and is breathless with its potential.

He writes that sounds and images have a much higher emotional impact than do numbers and words. I think that is only partly true.  Novels and poems can equal cinema in their impact (because they need the reader to do use more of their imagination).

I think Davis places too much emphasis on the use of fancy images and sound and not enough on the fundamentals of telling a good story.

But overall, the essay is insightful and provides a useful framework to understand how technology will evolve.

I like Davis’s view on the architecture of information (this is from another article):

How have the predictions fared?

Davis predicted that image processing software could become as universal as word processing.  21 years later, the most powerful software is something that only professional designers really use.  Tools like Canva have come along recently – but I think we are still waiting for the killer app that everyone can use.

In business, most people use Microsoft Word and PowerPoint to get their ideas across. In 21 years we’ve seen increasing use of high-quality images, better-designed templates, and (thankfully) the fall of the dreaded clip art.  One day our computers will recommend visual elements based on the stories we are looking to tell.

Davis predicted that Web sites would make extensive use of sound and images and we will see that continue to grow.  Each year you can see websites and apps get better and richer.

Davis predicted we’d be using voice and fingerprint recognition widely.  That has taken longer than he thought, but it is now here.

He also thought computers will be able to smell and sense how we feel.  IBM has since built computers that can smell.  I can imagine an iPhone in ten years that understands what sort of day you are having and makes recommendations to help you be at your best.

What might the future hold?

Computers are great at making us more efficient.

In time they will help us be more effective – by helping us to understand ourselves better individually and collectively, and to express ourselves in a more impactful way.

Imagine a computer giving you tips on how to make your picture more beautiful.  Or how to make your song sound less derivative. Or even how to structure the family weekend.  These may be twenty or fifty years away, but they will come.

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