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  • Writer's pictureArika Lawrence

How the Experience Economy is Transforming Human Connections

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

A person sitting in room with a virtual reality headset on

As the world attempts to open back up again, there's a huge interest to invest in worthy and memorable experiences. Humans are designed to interact with one another, but the pandemic has impacted the way humans connect, communicate and even, do business together. Through technology, the human experience is being reimagined right before our eyes and we’re all actively involved (knowingly and unknowingly) in shaping the future of how human experiences should feel, sound, taste, smell and look like.

Social currency just got real

The pandemic has shifted the human mindset in our ability to connect and interact with one another. Think about it: in person meetups feel extremely clinical to organize. What used to be a favorite pastime to casually link up with colleagues, friends and family, etc, now feels like a logistical nightmare. You have to assess risks differently, weigh the value and worthiness of that meetup, you have to think through what is the desired outcome you want to achieve because trade offs and sacrifices come with the territory, “expect the unexpected” has a new layer of meaning, and ultimately, there’s a deeper appreciation to make all human interactions count.

Even online dating has added a level of complexity to meeting someone new --- do you swipe left on people who do not share the same Covid beliefs and policies as yourself? Or do you assess the risks of your differences, find a middle ground on comfortability and still meetup, anyway? Or is the meetup not happening (still) because this person is a ‘“catfish” or a ghost? Lol It’s a knotty web of questions but this is just one of many examples of how the pandemic is shaping the way we rethink the human experiences.

From my 30,000 foot perspective, I believe a well designed human experience (that tastefully uses tech and makes tech accessible for all) will never go out of style, and I believe people are in dire need of this. The world experienced the great lockdown together in 2020, and even as I type this blog, parts of our world never got out of lockdown, are going back on lockdown, mask mandates reinstated? and/or considering lockdown again because we haven’t arrived at a solution. Majority of the world has been deprived of interactive human experiences for more than two years (some are still deprived of this prior to the pandemic as well) and the desire to be around people again is becoming an awkward (and sometimes, uncomfortable) experience.

Contactless experiences: Can we tech about it?

I caveat “tastefully using tech” because it’s impossible these days to interact with a human without a piece of technology being part of the ride. I mean, it’s possible to function without tech, but it’s becoming extremely difficult to do so, especially, if you want access to a better quality of life. When you go to some restaurants now (in person), instead of handing you a hard copy menu, they’ve converted their menu into a QR code. You use your smartphone camera to scan a unique code that will pop up the restaurant’s menu. Some of the fancier restaurants (even pre-pandemic), you order your food via an iPad and you can pay there, too. So, why have more restaurants adopted tech into their service delivery plans now? Like I said, some were doing it pre-pandemic -- it just went with the vibe of their restaurant aesthetic, but now, it’s becoming a necessity to survive. People want convenience, options, and flexibility. We've seen Covid restrictions come and go, health & safety regulations have changed, and we’re all doing the best we can to adopt a contactless lifestyle, but it’s hard and complicated.

To go a level deeper, virtual and augmented realities are on the rise and are being leveraged to create “human-like” experiences -- this type of tech is driving the contactless experience economy forward, and it’s even shaping the way we do transactional business. Human sensory cues like touch, sound and sight are recreated in a virtual environment and have reimagined what the “human-like” experiences mean in the near future. Whether you’re into it or not, you’ve probably seen more augmented reality influencing the way you shop online. For example, have you “tried on” a piece of jewelry or clothing online without leaving your couch? That’s augmented reality. Remember Pokemon Go!? It was an obsession in the states a few years back (it’s still popular in other parts of the world) where people became infatuated with catching Pokemons everywhere, including on the bus, at home or at work lol. Yup, that was an augmented reality, too! By design, this technology's intention is to create a highly immersive and sensory stimulating experience anywhere and if it’s not properly regulated, it can become nuisances, too.

It’s the same with virtual reality experiences -- and I’ve seen a few professional events do this well. Pre-pandemic, event planners were all about designing in person sensory designed experiences and they were investing in some tech (like an event app, social media, live stream and website) to make that possible. Now, event planners have the enormous task to pull off similar experiences all online. In the last 7 years, I’ve seen a few international events adopt more tech and scale their event completely online (because they had to in order to survive) using dynamic content and gamification practices to keep their event lively, interactive and memorable. I’ve worked on event apps, live stream platforms and websites before; downloading an app that had all the event information, networking with attendees, sponsorship prior to meeting up with everyone onsite, but not to the degree of what these event apps do today. Now (pandemic times), we’ve evolved from the in-app experience to tasking attendees with curating a unique digital character (also known as an avatar) that represents them on the online event floor, and they move around this virtual environment as if the event is happening in person. It’s wildly fun and addictive.

Tap into the virtual payment revolution & digital real estate investments

In the payment world, we’ve evolved from swiping cards to mobile banking to sending virtual payments over platforms like Paypal, Apple Pay, Venmo, CashApp to transacting by voice (Hey, Alexa!) to pay by touch or tap (using wearable tech or by phone). Before you know it, we’ll be paying for goods and services by blinking our eyes! It’s interesting to see the evolution of the payment transactional cycle and how each year we’re designing new ways to collect and receive payment.

One of the biggest things I enjoy about this transactional revolution is we’re making the way of doing business accessible to more people who have different needs, different preferences and different means to make money. Small business owners, especially those who take up space on e-commerce platforms, have a huge opportunity to connect, grow and thrive like never before. More consumers enjoy the luxury of shopping or booking experiences from their phone, tablet, watch or computer. The challenge for small business owners is getting past all the red tape and kinks of setup: 1) establish an online headquarters 2) organize your goods & services for purchase 3) turn on secure capabilities to accept payment, 4) build a marketing buzz and 5) ensure your platform is optimized to deliver seamless buying experiences for your visitors. Bitcoin and cryptocurrency (oh and could I forget the land of NFTs) are also taking the e-commerce world by storm – it’s nearly impossible to talk about digital currency without bringing up these two. The other trend that’s also been on the top of my mind is how the metaverse is buying and selling virtual real estate. So, digital land IS the new property investment, so what does that mean for the rest of the real estate world?

So, what’s next for the experience economy?

The experience economy isn’t possible without thinking about how to provide a meaningful and safe experience. It’s a challenge because there’s no guidelines on how to do this, we’re all learning through practice and unfortunately that comes with big risks, ample failures until we learn what IS the ethical thing to do. It also comes with an enormous task to UNLEARN a lot of what we thought was “norm,” “standard practice” or “baseline.” So, how might we leverage tech for good to help us create accessible and safe human experiences in a pandemic era and beyond? I believe it begins with striking the right balance in how we use tech in the first place and it requires making room for others (a wide network) to teach us and show us how to design more equitable experiences. The experience economy is not slowing down – how is your business or company exploring this trend?

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