Announcing the Omni project!

Look out honey, cuz I’m using technology!*

Today I’m thrilled to announce that Portigal Consulting is embarking on a self-funded study about the impact that digital technology is having on our lives. That’s certainly ambitious, when put that way, and of course we will be refining our direction, our research question, our business question, etc. in the initial steps (and beyond). We know what we think we want to understand, and we know that it’s going to change.

The impetus for this project is that we constantly hear from research subjects (almost across any project category) that they are challenged by technology, that they are “addicted” to their smartphone, Facebook, their Netflix queue, and beyond, and they struggle to balance the benefits with the more subtle impacts that they don’t understand. Erica (a participant in our previous self-funded study, Reading Ahead), says it well

For instance, my oldest and dearest friend was in Oregon. And sure, I had to pick up the phone and call her, and interact with her, and listen to her voice and talk to her, and a have a conversation. And I would do that. And gosh, like lately, it’s just horrible because, you know, “Oh, we should call. We should talk.” And then I see her Facebook statuses all the time, so in a weird way I feel like I’m completely caught up with her in ways that I would never have been before, which is great. On the other hand, it makes me very lazy. It’s just like I just don’t want to have a real connection in real life. It’s all just so trying and tired, like, “Oh, I don’t want to have the very like long call where I have to catch her up on all these things that involve lots of stuff.” I never used to be like that, so I’m worried that all of these devices that are supposed to make our lives easier and connect us more are, you know, in a sort of sci-fi-y way, making us a little bit zombied out…

At the same time, we are experiencing a torrent (if you will) of cultural stories about the positive impacts of technology (especially economically) and the big and small losses (e.g., Bill Keller on The Twitter Trap; Dalton Conley on college students seeking like-minded roommates).

As I challenged designers, marketers, innovators and product peeps in my interactions column The Hard Work Lies Ahead (If You Want It), these issues exist in much of the work that we are all doing, but they are also being ignored.

We hope to shed some light and provide some grip points (insights, frameworks, opportunities) that teams can use to deal with this complex situation.

An Open-Ended Approach

Unlike many of our engagements, where a specific scope is agreed upon, detailing methodology, timeline, etc. we are going to be a lot more free in our approach to the Omni project. Our priority will always be our client work, so as workflow and capacity shifts around, we’ll be fitting this in as we can. We also are excited about starting with less of a specific objective than in a consulting gig, and figuring it out as we go. We have a lot of ideas about methods already (from inventories of pop culture, to a bibliography and secondary research effort, to in-context interviews purely to try and formulate the problem) and know that those will continue to evolve, as we pick the next step that makes sense from that particular vantage point.

the Omni project?

We wondered who our client could be for this project and thought of Omni Consumer Products, the “fictional megacorporation” from Robocop (and not the real-yet-homagey company – see more on this from Rob Walker, if your bag is meta).

Omni Consumer Products, bringing every sort of technology to the masses, whether they want it or not

We also thought about OMNI magazine which, during my formative high-school years offered a science fiction/science fact vision of the future, the future we are living in now.

OMNI magazine – gaze upon just about every sciencelicious cover here

Of course, “omni” also evokes key attributes to how we’re experiencing technology right now, such omnipotent, omnipresence, and omniscient.

We’ll be continuously blogging about what we’re doing, what we’re thinking, what we’re learning. Stay tuned!


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