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Every company, brand, agency and individual wants to talk "digital" and be perceived as digital. Digital is the new normal. Yet, the most powerful digital technologies and interfaces will increasingly lead to the creation of experiences that are ultimately physical.
Today, our five senses are the operating system through which we decode the reality around us. Tomorrow, they will be enhanced by digital operating systems embedded and hidden inside our accessories and clothes, transportation vehicles, offices, homes and cities.
Digital will soon become the invisible fabric and engine of our lives, leading to the creation of physical experiences that involve our bodies, feelings, emotions, actions and reactions.
The "Physical Revolution" will be driven by five key trends:
1. Sensors will be the new devices. We will bring our devices with us, but feel like we are carrying no device at all. Sensors will merge with our senses and our gestures. We'll shoot pictures with our hands, activate commands through our voices and access the world through our eyes. Our bodies will become the remote control of the entire world around us. For example, Halstead Property is exploring haptic technology, which allows potential real estate buyers to virtually explore the properties they are interested in, and simulate touch-based tasks like opening door handles, closets and faucets.
2. Surfaces will be the new screens. Think walls, floors, ceilings, walkways -- every surface will carry the power to communicate with us. "Physical" disciplines like design and architecture will be digitally led and more important than ever before. There will be fewer screens because everything will have the ability to function as a screen.
3. Smart cities will make us smart citizens. Today we focus on the devices in front of us; tomorrow we'll focus on the larger reality in front of us. Digital will be increasingly environmental. We will have better interaction with our cities and design cities that will better interact with their citizens.
4. Only meaningful interactions will survive. We are constantly and increasingly bombarded by digital stimuli, to a point where they can often make us feel numb. In the future, we will create well-integrated interfaces and interactions that will only be active or activated when we really need them. User experience will go far beyond its original and limited meaning and human experience -- the design of all experiences -- will be the new and thriving discipline.
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An early example is The Pen at the Cooper Hewitt Museum. It enables every visitor of the museum to digitally collect objects from around the galleries, download them on interactive tables and add their own notes, thoughts and designs, which will remain accessible online through a unique web address printed on every ticket.
5. The world will be printed. The invention of print helped the world to learn. Tomorrow, the world will be recreated through printing. 3D printing will be the flag of the new industrial revolution. In moving from physical molds to digital files, every object around us will have the power to be mass customized -- so we will all get what we want, when we want it, the way we want it.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will offer a peek into the future. In May, Manus X Machina is opening. It is an exhibition that explores the impact of new technology such as 3D printing, laser cutting and computer modeling on fashion, and the relationship between handmade and machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant garde ready-to-wear.
Everything around us will be shaped through the interaction of the above forces. Together, these trends will contribute to a more concrete, tangible and experiential world. Brands will have to increasingly appeal to the five senses, creating ideas and activations that will operate digitally, but will be experienced physically.
The advertising industry will evolve to the point where the smartest digital-savvy players won't simply create ads, apps or design websites. They will help design cities, and smart interactions between things, tools, messages and people.
Soon, we won't have to describe anything as digital, because everything will be digitally led. And, everything that will be operated digitally will be experienced physically.
The very idea of "digital marketing" won't exist anymore, nor will the idea of marketing and communication for the digital age (the new cliché). What the world will increasingly adopt are digital solutions for a physical age.
As marketers, professionals or simply human beings, we won't live in an increasingly digital world. We will all live in an increasingly physical world, empowered by digital.
Editor's note: Continue the conversation with industry leaders at the 2016 Ad Age Digital Conference in New York City, April 5-6. Get all the details here.