From NYC to the Sea: Lesson 2

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"Technology is anything that wasn't around when you were born."

Alan Kay

This week I started documenting the insights I gleaned between attending Fast Company’s Innovation Festival, New York City and Summit at Sea through the Bahamas. Here, the second of many lessons learned is an observation of how brands are casting themselves as technology companies, despite decades in business.


Lesson 2: Oh, so you’re a technology company too?

Recently I read a quote from computer scientist, Alan Kay: “Technology is anything that wasn't around when you were born.”

For instance, the printing press and books were once ‘technology’ which revolutionised the way people consumed information. We don’t think about tools, or even the average car, as technology, but at one stage they were – and they changed us forever.

That’s how great technology has always worked: it integrates itself so intimately into our lives that we stop thinking of it as technology.

It’s funny then that so many big companies seem to be going the opposite way. After weaving themselves into our lives as products and services, they’re starting to do something strange: they’re starting to call themselves technology companies.

Mastercard’s VP of Digital Marketing opened his FCNY Innovation Festival talk at Percolate with the line, “We’re a technology company that happens to do financial transactions.” It’s eerily similar to the claim that Domino’s Australia is a technology company that happens to make pizza, for anyone who’s looking forward to the thrilling anonymity of drone-delivered pizzas. Similarly, Telstra (a major Australian telecommunications company for anyone playing outside Australia) have based their Thrive On campaign around being a – surprise, surprise – technology company. What is happening, 2016?

So why do these legacy companies want to be technology companies? I suspect it’s not just about sounding cooler or merely jumping on a good bandwagon. It’s a symptom of the infinite possibilities that technology has forged in products and services that have existed for at least most of our lives. Who could’ve ever anticipated that you would organise a stranger to come to your house so you could willingly jump in their car? And then pay them for it without ever verbalising where you need to go, or exchanging cash? Cars have been around for decades, but it’s (new) technology that allows Uber and Lyft to craft modern companies from (older) technology.

Legacy companies are embracing the inevitable change by branding themselves as technology companies – because the alternative is to reject evolution and fossilise. And while we might be looking at a period where ‘technology’ dilutes in meaning, it’s a direct result of upheaving our purchasing expectations for any company we give our time or money to.

I do wonder though, if #technologycompany is just a buzzword replacing #innovation. It means everything, yet nothing. Thoughts?

Lindsay RogersComment