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We’re on the cusp of an offline renaissance

Technological innovation takes on a mind and direction of its own. As it grows it provokes further innovation and counter innovation, all of which must be considered when thinking about its future.

We recently invited key influencers from the world of technology and media to discuss how advances in technology will impact the way we will be communicating in the next 10, 20 or 30 years (see video below).

Resoundingly, members of the panel cited how mass consumerisation of technology and the fact that so many aspects of our lives rely on being online, is leading us down a path of re-evaluation. As gadgets and technology are displaced in our ‘always on’ society, we’re seeing a renaissance of the ‘real-world’.

As technology and connectivity advance, this resurgence is gathering pace.

Purchasing music through iTunes is now the norm, but sales of vinyl records surpassed the one million milestone last year for the first time since 1996. When books went digital, the future of the traditional print industry was called into question, however research has shown that many young adults prefer reading print books, 62% in fact.

The panel argued that this could, in part, be attributed to the rise of the maker movement – a movement that is seeing people turn to ‘making’ rather than just ‘consuming’. The trend applies to skills within tech, such as coding and engineering, but predominantly it refers to the abundance of young people taking up more ‘traditional’ skills, from woodwork and metal work, to knitting and arts and craft.

A quick look at funding sites such as Kickstarter or online marketplaces such as Etsy highlight the prominence of this movement. In 2013, Etsy announced it had surpassed the 30 million users milestone, and Kickstarter recently announced that it has received over $1 billion in pledges – the latest business ventures on the platform include handcrafted pencils, a glassblowing furnace and beeswax candles.

Traditionally, these types of skills-based professions had their roots in community-living where they were bought and sold to a market that was determined by proximity. However, as we harnessed the technological advances of the internet, this market became global.

These makers have formed a community that allows anyone to make anything and sell it to anyone, and share their ideas and inspiration freely across the web.

Other examples of how people and businesses are re-engaging with the physical world are noticeable amongst London’s small businesses and start-up scene.

The growth of office sharing and the introduction of new co-working ‘match-making’ sites, such as Hubble, has not only enabled start-ups to cut down on the costs of ‘bricks and mortar’, but SMEs and freelancers alike are utilising this new-found flexibility to build valuable relationships in the ‘real world’ – all they need is a steady internet connection to run their own business.

While this retro movement can be viewed purely as a ‘fashion statement’, it proves that physical products and interactions are still important to people, and that it is increasingly driven by advances in technology. It could be argued that the more intangible our products and services become, the greater the need to have something physical to come back to.

The potential of future technology is incredibly exciting, but seamlessly integrating our offline and online is still a fair way off, particularly in London.

According to new figures from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, only 31% of premises in the capital have access to super-fast connections and research that we conducted with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) last year shows huge discrepancies in availability and access to a reliable connection – in the City of London, for example, a mere 6% of addresses have superfast coverage.

Further to this, close to 45% of office-based sector SMEs are concentrated in Central London and parts of East London (City of London, Hackney and Tower Hamlets). These are the areas with the slowest broadband speeds and the worst superfast broadband availability.

Not only is this stifling business productivity, efficiency and growth, but it will have a drastic impact on innovation.

We are about to experience the impact of a generation of true digital natives entering the workplace for the very first time. These young men and women have never known a world without access to online resources at their fingertips, and the current status quo will not meet their expectations.

As they rediscover the value of their relationship with the physical world and look to merge online and offline communities, the only way we can support the future of our connected world is to ensure we have a flexible and reliable connection in place that can adapt with the innovation.