The context economy: Integrating service, product and connectivity

Many contemporary films and literature depict the future as a dystopian society where technology has advanced to the detriment of human beings. However there are many insightful educational papers and research that predict a different scenario, where the advancement of new digital technologies contribute to the health and wellness of individuals, and builds connected communities who live in a more sustainable economy and environment.

The 21st century is defined not by mass consumption but by mass creativity, as we have new technologies that allow people to explore greater expression, create personalised experiences, and gain more knowledge through easy accessible and accurate information systems[1]. Furthermore these technologies are matched alongside social networking and community enhancing websites, which opens up new ways of sharing resources and living in a more sociable and connected community.

Imagine…

You now live in an economy based on information, services, experiences and solutions, in and through specific contexts. You value being able to customize this in a way that is personal and fitting to you, as an individual or as a group. Living as you do in a context economy, value is based on customization, adaptability and transformation [2].

Entering into a context economy means that ambient technologies become embedded into our everyday lives and instead of consuming goods and services, people are able to live with it side-by-side as it supports and facilitates daily living[3].

Making Future Magic is a short film collaboration by Dentsu London and Timo Arnall. It looks at a not too distant future where media is able to travel freely onto surfaces of everyday life and therefore can speak more frequently and quietly[4]. This film takes into account how social networking and the media have become a huge part of people’s daily lives, and as technologies continue to advance, it shows the possibility that these mediums can be highly integrated into ordinary objects. The products that are depicted in the film successfully portray the type of technologies that are now entering into the context economy where service, product and connectivity are all combined to create personalised experiences.

Don Norman discusses some of the dangers of intelligent devices and how future design should be focused on developing an optimal relationship between humans and machines. Making Future Magic is interesting because it shows a high integration of smart technology but it is not a dangerous integration, as the technology can co-exist with humans in an intimate and meaningful setting. This is the type of innovative thinking that businesses should implement when looking at technology as a means to innovate, and to understand that products are no longer valuable to consumers as much as the experience.


[1] Green, J. 2007, ‘Democratizing the future: Towards a new era of creativity and growth by Josephine Green’, paper presented to the IIT Institute of Design Strategy Conference, 17-18th May 2007.

[2] ibid 1

[3] Ibid 1

[4] Jack Schulze . 2010. Media Surfaces: Incidental Media. [ONLINE] Available at: http://berglondon.com/blog/2010/11/03/media-surfaces-incidental-media/. [Accessed 04 July 12].

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Pundits and industry insi…

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Pundits and industry insiders expect smart cities to become a sizable market, with projections of nearly $40 billion spent on smart-cities technologies by 2016. And real estate experts predict that smart cities will in the future be attractive to the educated work force and will therefore become real-estate gold.

The Top 10 Smart Cities On The Planet | Co.Exist: World changing ideas and innovation

Is consumption the answer to a brighter future?

As Charles Leadbeater discusses, the 20th century was a time of spending and defined by credit, advertising and materialism but in the turn of the 21st century collaborative consumption started to change the economy and traditional trading idea’s surrounding community and sharing re-emerged [1]. This type of consumption is a healthy move forward for the economy in terms of reducing waste, dealing with over consumption and promoting the idea of sharing and utilizing resources efficiently.

TIME magazine names Collaborative Consumption as one of the top trends of 2010 [2]. After the financial crisis, people became more aware of their spending habits but collaborative consumption has been around long before the credit crunch. As a growing movement, collaborative consumption is becoming increasingly popular, as social networks become more utilized into daily life.

‘Living Social’ is one example of a collaborative lifestyle network. Living Social is the online source for discovering valuable local experiences. We inspire our members to find, share, and enjoy the best of their neighborhoods by connecting them with handpicked local businesses. [3]

The success of living social show that people not only want to save money but they also want to be social and remain connected with their local communities. This is good for the economy, as local businesses increase sales but also build good relationships with customers who in turn, have quick and easy access to special offers.

Another example of collaborative consumption surrounds the betterment of the environment by allocating resources through a rent system. It makes sense. If people are renting cars and electronic goods, this would lead to a reduction in waste and also carbon emissions.

Hubway is a bicycle rental system in Boston that is economical, sustainable and an easier (fun) way to travel around the city. With 60 stations, 600 bicycles and an eye towards expanding into Boston neighborhoods and surrounding communities, Hubway provides users with an accessible and green transit option [4]. This is a new business venture and could potentially transform society and the way people travel in the city.

Businesses are moving towards an experience economy where by the experience offered to the consumer is vital to its success and consumers are moving towards a sharing economy. Entering into this new economy, it is becoming more feasible now to see that the future could possibly be one that is moving towards a more green and sustainable one. Capitalism is still on the agenda of many powerful leaders in the business and government sectors but if consumers start to shift their thinking towards collaborative consumptions, and business respond, then perhaps a sharing society will prove more lasting than one built on heavy consumption and ownership.


[1] Botsman, R. & Rodgers, R. 2010, ‘Introduction: What’s Mine is Yours’, in What’s mine is yours: the rise of collaborative consumption, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, pp. ix-xxii.

[2] Bryan Walsh. 2010. The Top 10 Everything of 2010. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2035319_2034098_2034146,00.html. [Accessed 02 July 12]

[3] LivingSocial . 2012. Livingsocial Our Company. [ONLINE] Available at:http://corporate.livingsocial.com/ourcompany. [Accessed 03 July 12].

[4] Hubway. 2011. Hubway. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.thehubway.com/. [Accessed 03 July 12].

When Innovation crosses the line

When thinking about successful future scenarios for businesses, you would think that technological advancements would be key to innovation. And indeed it is. Take the IPhone as an example; the innovative use of technology in producing an IPhone makes it an ideal smart phone with easy accessibility, convenience and a sleek design. But what makes Apple so successful is the fact that they implemented design thinking to this innovation, as they were able to find out what people wanted and could translate these wants into a meaningful device.

But what happens when smart phones no longer meet the needs of consumers who are constantly wanting more. Our generation is moving towards an age where we rely heavily on technology, fast accessibility and have a high desire to be connected. Does this mean that the coming of the new IPhone 5 is not as exciting as anticipated?

Don Norman discusses some of the dangers of intelligent devices and how future design should be focused on developing an optimal relationship between humans and machines. The IPhone is a smart device that offers a lot of benefits to the user and essentially makes life easier, but how meaningful is it? Or will it be meaningful in the future? Imagine if there was an application that organized your life for you in a way that it could give you advice on how to go about your day, what television shows to watch, which social events you should attend and the sport you should play in order to increase the quality of your lifestyle. This is almost like your IPhone is telling or commanding you what to do which becomes an unnatural imbalance to the relationship between humans and machines. Although some of Norman’s warnings may seem to be provocative and based on some assumptions, he is taping into some serious problems that should be considered.

On tiny plots, a new generation of farmers emerges

It is becoming almost a new fad in the market to see people making choices based on well-being, and health and taking the form of an altruist rather than just a consumer driven by price.  Many leading firms including The Body Shop, Starbucks and Toyota along with organizations such as PETA have already taped into this market as the demand for ethical, sustainable and local rootedness continue to become important buying factors for consumers.

A huge market that has able to develop and flourish in this altruist environment is the market for organic products. Although organic products and services are in comparison more expensive to conventional products, this market has seen substantial growth in recent years.  There are three major factors that enable small organic farms to stay competitive in the industry: a rising consumer demand for organic produce, a huge increase in farmers’ markets nationwide, and the growing popularity of community-supported agriculture[1].

A health conscious consumer is one type of persona but looking at the idea of an altruist consumer helps businesses build good will within their company. Cotton On is an example of a retail business that has developed goodwill by creating a foundation to help support children in poor communities. In every transaction they ask the customer if they would like to purchase a charity bag or bracelet to help support this foundation [2]. This is another example of how people are motivated to purchase on the basis of doing something beneficial for the wider community and where price plays little relevance.


[1] http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/environment/2009-07-13-young-farmers_N.htm

[2] Cotton On Group . 2012. Cotton On Foundation . [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.cottononfoundation.org/. [Accessed 27 June 12].