Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Talking Shoe by Adidas and Google: Inanimate Objects Entering Social Media

Breakthrough technological innovation is always mildly unnerving. It challenges our habits and held assumptions, pushing us to adopt new behaviors. But occasionally technology outdoes itself: welcome The Talking Shoe.

This collaboration between Adidas, Google and a couple of smaller creative partners has just been presented at a tech and culture event SXSW in Austin, USA. The shoe is filled with all kinds of motion sensors that detect the user’s activity and communicate with him or her through 250 cheeky phrases as well as being integrated with social media like Google+.

So what is it exactly? Some suggest it is a motivation tool, encouraging wearers to exercise more. As far as customer benefits go, an inanimate voice with an attitude constantly nagging you is unlikely to help at the gym. Anyhow, the product is not currently destined for the market. The Nike+ FuelBand team can breath a sigh of relief.

More important seems to be The Shoe’s integration with social media. The makers have described it as ‘an experiment in how you can use connected objects to tell the stories on the web’ and ‘an experiment… of bringing advertising to multiple creative platforms, including everyday objects.’ A scary thought, but so was television and Facebook once upon a time.

By pushing the boundaries of technology’s reach this brilliantly wacky experiment helps us imagine an entirely new universe; one in which inanimate objects actively participate in our social lives. Is this where the future of technological innovation lies? Turning objects into real social agents with a personality to interact with us would be a sci-fi worthy breakthrough.  [The Shoe] has your own social network feed so all of your friends can see… what your shoe says about you’ the makers proudly tell us.

As far as mass-market commercialization (and the broad cultural change that needs to precede it) goes, my gut feeling is that there is no inherent human need for socializing with pre-programmed machines. Unless there is a specific reason to communicate with a computer – like asking for directions while driving – infusing inanimate objects with a personality is not likely to add any value to consumers.

Telling stories online through inanimate objects could have great potential – but they will always be the wearer’s stories, not The Shoe’s.