Companion Animals

Companion Animals

Kirsten NelsonThe 1970s phenomenon of the Pet Rock remains today an important event on the timeline of imbuing inanimate objects with our innermost desires for affection and understanding. The silent rock seemed to agree with anything said to it, and offered tacit advice tailored to its owner’s every whim. Without saying a word, the rock became the most intuitive and comforting friend anyone ever knew.

Fast-forward to the now ancient-seeming iPhone 1, which one of my industry colleagues likened to a “pet” in its own right. On a business trip, in the anonymity of a hotel room, the iPhone offered a portal into the familiar. All your apps were where you left them, offering up bits of personal information and entertainment. It was a little bit like a Pet Rock in the digital affection it offered to the jetlagged and world-weary.

Then the iPhone departed from the Pet Rock realm and started talking to you, anticipating your needs with sometimes hilarious inaccuracy, sometimes amazing astuteness. Siri is a friend that people argue with on the street when “she” doesn’t understand their needs.

Now please turn to the immediate future-perfect world of Her, the latest movie from Spike Jonze. In that feature, Jonze presents a fully realized vision of how we’ll soon be living with our mobile electronic devices, bantering with them the same way we’d chat with a friend who happens to have access to unlimited terabytes of information while simultaneously taking care of mundane tasks such as ordering groceries and reading email.

Jonze depicts with striking accuracy what will likely be our cultural reality in the near term. In fact, as we go to press, Amazon has announced its pursuit of a patent for algorithms that enable “Anticipatory Shipping”—parcels shipped to you based on your behavior before you click the “buy” button. Amazon will track your shopping behavior and predict when you will actually commit to the purchase, pulling goods from a warehouse and readying them to arrive on your doorstep within moments of a purchase transaction.

Is this scary, or is it in fact what we want from our digital pets? These inanimate objects keep us company and please us with their ability to anticipate our needs. The future world that Jonze depicts is one that your customers are ready for right now. It’s like a purchase order ready for printing, with its gesture control, computer interfaces embedded into furniture, and Mersive-like “throwing” of mobile device data onto immersive holographic video game images for real-time collaboration. If Amazon were watching your clients, it would definitely say they will click “purchase” very soon. Are you ready with the goods?