Pete Blackshaw's Digital Year in Review: From Voice Commands to Consumer Demands

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Pete Blackshaw, global head of digital and social media for Nestle, splurged on his first 360-degree camera this year.
Pete Blackshaw, global head of digital and social media for Nestle, splurged on his first 360-degree camera this year. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

"Tell me a joke!" "Play NPR news." "Play the Beatles." "Alexa, Are you married?"

Such was the cadence of curious commands that crept into all corners of our home this year.

Yes, I know: Voice activation isn't new. I mean, we've been barking into Siri, Google Now, and other mobile voice apps for years. But it's all a bit too serious and practical for my taste.

Amazon Alexa and the just-launched Google Home, by contrast, are knee-slapping fun! Alexa especially won my heart for being there, always on my terms and never judgmental, ever eager to take me somewhere, however silly, even with the kids.

And so 2016 ends on a "smooth voice" note. It was another year of habit change and platform pivots, punctuated by more gadgets, gizmos, and rapidly diversifying video formats.

Let's start with some basics. Messenger attained telephone status. Voice mail flirted with extinction. Paypal seduced my worst "buy now" instincts. Skype for "Business" finally took root. WeChat re-engaged me in a cacophony of hieroglyphic emoticons.

There were curious digital side-effects. My fingers got crazy sore deleting email – yes, this monster is getting uglier -- and even my "junk" email box screamed for relief.

At CES I purchased a "back posture" app that tells you exactly what you don't want to know… but really need to know. My FitBit Alta revealed erratic -- yet frighteningly accurate -- sleep metrics.

Video creation, powered by thumb-editing (versus desktop), dominated my digital habits. My kids and I cranked out countless "adventure" videos from ski slopes, cool museums, and even our first FC Barcelona game. Like-deficits motivated continuous improvement.

Dancing smileys aside, I endured too many bad and boring live video feeds from friends. That said, I doled out gobs of "pity likes" in the good spirit of reciprocity.

I splurged and bought my first 360 camera, but regretted it 90 degrees later. My GoPro broke, but my iPhone6 camera surprisingly backfilled 80% of my needs.

I snapped a bit on Snapchat, but upon learning the only person taking my content seriously was our Snapchat sales rep, I felt like a loser. Meanwhile, my three kids, ever deft with dad's phone, worked the face filters like magicians. Even my boss out-snapped me with goofy pet filters.

My plethora of Pinterest pins (or "saves" or whatever) confirmed my digital "pack rat" proclivities. Twitter confirmed my failings as a publisher, but wowed me as a viewer of live-streaming sports events.

Then again, most of the streams were blocked at the Swiss border.

I caught the Chatbot bug. As apps go, Canva made me feel like a one-man ad agency. I furiously put the tool to work creating custom Facebook birthday messages.

I was out of control with Boomerang. iTunes music purchases slowed to a crawl while playlist creation on Spotify skyrocketed. My son and I had a blast co-creating Garage Band music mixes.

I earnestly joined the Mobile Marketing Association board, but struggled to define mobile in a way that didn't include everything in the universe.

I balanced TV abstinence (in the living room), with TV embrace (on the go). I rejoiced over Netflix downloads. My kids discovered "Modern Family," and got too many of the jokes about curious parenting behavior.

Speaking of which, the kids helped me sharpen my digital edge. Again, who needs focus groups when "Just Dance," "Minecraft," "," "Star Wars Battlefront," and "Pokemon Go" own you home?

Road trips inspired. I experienced mega-broadband in South Korea, tech smarts in Ukraine, foodie culture in Berlin, and the 50,000-attendee Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

Along the way, I had little to no patience for slow or weak WiFi in hotels or digital conferences. Or WiFi with impenetrably complex and long passwords. Or the plethora of passwords for everything. Help!

I barely had time to read, but I loved David McCullough's "Wright Brothers." Tim Wu's "Attention Merchants" reminded me our ad industry still has work to do on the trust building front.

I'm giving my first TED talk, expanding on my "Trust Your Inner Consumer" theme from an early Ad Age column (and 2015 year in review).

I read reviews for everything, and contributed many of my own. While I never shilled, I did notice a steep increase in free water from rating-hungry Uber drivers. Even my wife went to lengths to protect her perfect Airbnb "customer ratings," endlessly reminding me to keep any rented apartment on family trips perfect.

2016 saw moments of weakness. I read too many BuzzFeed stories. My brain blocked in comprehending "blockchain." I interrupted a delicious 25-person Thanksgiving dinner with the "Mannequin Challenge."

I succumbed to U.S. election link-bait with embarrassing -- almost compulsive -- regularity. I assumed pollsters, data vendors, quant jocks, and "big data" gurus could actually predict what's next.

And there were moments of real vulnerability. Halfway through the year, my beloved Instagram account – the photo lab of my life -- got hacked. The perpetrators even gave me a new name -- all this against an endless stream of news media stories about email hacks. Talk about giving pause for reflection.

But those are just a few manageable and expected bumps in an otherwise eventful – always engaging, wonderfully unpredictable – digital year!

"Alexa, let's move on to 2017."

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