Since the 1970s, we have been living in what historians refer to as the “Information Age,” a time period marked by transition into the technological world and increased access to digitized knowledge. The Internet is arguably the Information Age’s most transformative element. It has given us new opportunities to globalize business, access education, receive healthcare and connect with others. However, many researchers argue that we are reaching a “saturation point” when it comes to the optimization of technology’s information delivery.
If you buy a new laptop or mobile phone these days, it does almost the same things as the one you bought five years ago. Newer products such as the Google Home or Amazon Echo provide little innovation beyond an added voice interface. Regardless, it is clear that we no longer have a need for additional technologies that allow us to learn or share information, but ones that allow us to engage with the world in more tactile, engaging and sociable ways.
Cue the Experience Age. Instead of acting as mere consumers of information and technology, we want to use it as a portal to create memorable and meaningful experiences. As business analyst Sharon Bennett says, “The ‘Experience Age’ is one in which people want to experience everything. It is felt that experience is comparable to getting the most out of life. People want to be immersed in the story…versus just serving as a bystander.”
In many ways, this shift is already upon us. Users of today’s social media are increasingly opting for real-time sharing. Instead of posting status updates or carefully-curated profiles, they want to be able to connect instantaneously using Snapchat, Facebook Live and Instagram Stories. In virtual reality, technology itself becomes the experience, immersing the user into a real or fictional place as if they were actually there. In late 2018, Netflix released its first interactive film Bandersnatch, which allowed users to make choices for the main character rather than just passively observing. Society wants a world where they are the agents of experience, deciding what they get to do, see and feel.
But it’s more than just technology that is becoming experience-based. Other industries, such as escape rooms, have seen a tremendous rise in popularity over the past decade. This offline social experience requires a team of people to work together to solve clues that lead them towards a common goal, which is usually escape. According to The New York Times, there are well over 2,000 escape rooms in the United States, ranging from $20-$45 dollars per person. For the price of admission, one receives an unpredictable, challenging and thrilling experience that is highly desirable in the Experience Age.
This newfound appreciation for experience has even changed the way that we travel. Take Airbnb, for example. This highly successful company has capitalized on our desires to collect unique and perhaps eccentric travel experience by offering accommodation-sharing from local renters. Rather than taking a long holiday vacation to a standard resort, travelers are opting to take shorter breaks and visit numerous locations. They rely on the reviews of other renters to design a personalized and more authentic travel experience.
Although the essential act of consuming may not have changed, the Experience Age has altered what we do consume. Despite the relative inexpensiveness of Bud Light or Dunkin Donuts, many are flocking to more humble establishments to experience craft beers and boutique coffee shops. While some critics say that these patterns of consumption are wasteful or purely performative, others believe that the aesthetic of these experience justifies the cost. Similarly, the Western world has seen a resurgence in vinyl records since 2007, especially among younger generations. Vinyl enthusiasts say that beyond the improved sound quality, the experience of gathering together with others to listen, appreciate cover art and discuss the music are one of the main draws.
As the Experience Age dawns, people are becoming increasingly interested in seeking out meaningful interactions, rather than passively consuming information. We are using technology as a bridge to new connections, challenges, destinations and encounters. While technology will remain a part of our daily lives, the Experience Age offers us the promising opportunity to design our lives and world in exciting and memorable ways.