If Only We Were Neanderthals

The Evolution of the Physical Realm

If only we were Neanderthals, there would be no such thing as ‘digital’, there would be no internet or cell phones, there would be no theories or laws… the world would be a simpler place, and maybe a better one? Who knows.

One of the theories of evolution states that humans i.e. Sapiens out-lived other species, such as Neanderthals, because of our ability to communicate the intangible. Meaning that other species used communication to state what was physically in existence (e.g. a tree or lion), but we rose to the top because of our ability to create and communicate beyond that (e.g. religion, theories, laws).

It is this ability that has supposedly developed the advanced society we live in today, yet some may argue it is also what’s destroying it.

Our success with the intangible has facilitated the neglect of the physical.

As we come to rely on the digital world more-and-more, we care a little less about the physical one — and not necessarily intentionally. The digital world is simply more practical… or so it seems.

Our days are getting occupied by the digital realm as various transactions and even experiences are shifting out of the physical realm. Historically, transactions and experiences were made in the physical world. Whether you were shopping, looking for a job, or a date, you were interacting with something tangible. As the online world emerged, many of those transactions were removed from the physical space.

For instance, cell phone use; in 1990, 4% of Americans owned cell phones. Today that number is 75%. Or even hours spent online; from 2000 to 2013 it rose from 9.4 hours to 13.6.

In some cases, the experiences we crave our shifting online as well: with the rise of entertainment offerings online, movie theater visits have hit an all-time low. And let’s not forget the emerging world of virtual reality. The opportunities to eliminate various physical interactions is endless with this new technology.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that our physical interactions are shifting to the digital world, there is one indisputable reason to continue to enhance the physical realm — it’s where we as humans exist.

Ready Player One and Jumanji have made me confident that one day in the near future we will have the opportunity to jump into a virtual world (in some ways we already can) to the extent that we feel we are in the physical one. But the matter of fact is that to live, to be here, to experience the things we experience online, we must face what exists offline.

Acknowledge this shift or change in the physical world as an extraction. Interactions that weren’t in-person were originally limited to mail. Slowly, that circle of “Other” non-physical interactions started to grow. Phones, cell phones, texting, social media, etc. all grew that aspect of our society, and pushed it out of physicality. To the point where in-person interactions are now a significantly smaller part of our lives. However, it’s important to note that the physical realm did not shrink. The intangible circle grew, providing us with more options than ever available before.

The digital world provides a certainty of satisfaction. Amazon is the perfect example of that — it’s where we go to get anything and everything, and it’s almost always guaranteed to be there.

It is without doubt that the intangible world was bound to evolve, and in many ways help us succeed, but physical communication is still and always will be rooted in our species. The physical world is where we experience; where we use the products we buy online, meet the people we chat to on social media, eat the food we post on Instagram, and see the world we really live in. E-commerce brands are even finding ways to display their products offline, because they know there is a demand to feel and touch. Note the Digitally Native Vertical Brand category.

The shift from touch-points offline to online is not a matter of a shrinking physical world, but rather its evolving purpose.

Our future as humans and the lives of future generations, relies on our ability to connect the two. This isn’t just a story about consumerism or about how the digital world has affected our lives. We all know and get that. This is about not forgetting. It’s about remembering to appreciate the world we live in and the people around us. Because with the resources now at our finger tips, we forget. The digital world could disappear in an instant, but the ground we stand on and the people in our lives will always be there… as long as we take care of them.

Let’s utilize the digital to enhance the physical world we live in, not at the expense of it.

HUMANS:

Our success with the intangible is remarkable, but it’s time we reverse our neglect of the physical to revive the earth we stand on.

BRANDS:

You know you have to be digital to succeed, but don’t use that as an excuse to reject the investment into physical opportunities. Utilize the physical to generate multiple touch-points.

Retail, real estate and brand strategy. What I don't know I can't tell you, but I will tell you what I think.

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