Last month on HBO’s ‘Real Time with Bill Maher,’ the outspoken TV personality compared the tech giants in Silicon Valley to tobacco farmers and declared “social media is the new nicotine.” I would have to disagree with him.
Unlike tobacco, cigarettes kill people. Technology (and consuming too much of it) does not. One can also live without any tobacco in their life. But unlike tobacco, I would argue it is becoming near impossible to live without technology. It is permeating every aspect of our lives, moving beyond communications, retail and media into everyday items, such as cars, wearables, household goods and smart homes. Sure, you could get by without any technology but it would be very challenging and you would miss out on the benefits it provides.
I think Bill’s comparisons to processed food are more on point than his comparisons to smoking. Technology companies are like Big Food. The processed food industry has been engineering what we eat for decades, using ingredients such as salt, fat and sugar to make us crave and consume more than we normally would. Similarly, technology companies are using neuroscience techniques with the same intentions, to make us crave and consume more than we need. Because the more we consume, the more profits they make.
Even though I don’t agree with Bill’s tobacco metaphor, I am glad he highlighted this topic and hopefully his segment will open his audience’s eyes to a growing issue. Better to see it for what it really is so people realize they have a problem and hopefully address it. There are ways to use technology without succumbing to its addictive nature but it requires awareness and a willingness to change behaviour.
As Bill said, “Philip Morris just wanted your lungs, the app store wants your soul.” This may sound like a wild exaggeration but there is some truth to his bold statement. And now is the time to do something about it, before we mindlessly slip further into technology’s alluring black hole.
Last week, I attended the BC Food Processors Association’s annual industry event - FoodProWest 2017 - with my colleague, Pam, from BrainComm Strategy + Design. It was the BCFPA’s 10th anniversary and their largest event yet, attracting over 700 food and beverage processors and industry stakeholders.
As a first-timer at this show, I was happy to see the range of new and established brands represented. One newborn brand that caught my eye, and delighted my taste buds, was Nora’s non-dairy ice cream. This show was their launch party, so to speak, as they were introducing their product to the trade for the very first time. Made with a combination of coconut milk and cashew milk, this ice cream is unbelievably creamy and comes in four summer-worthy flavours. For the sake of dairy and non-dairy ice cream lovers everywhere, I hope they secure some distribution quickly because I need more Nora’s this summer!
Sun-Rype, a legendary BC food brand that’s been around since 1946, was also exhibiting at the show. Over the years, they have expanded their range of products from the 100% pure apple juice that so many of us grew up with into other juices and beverages, fruit snacks and more. But they also sampled some exciting new products at the show that I hadn’t seen before. Of their four new Sparkling Teas, the Green Tea Honey Lemon was my favourite. It was light and refreshing, with lots of flavour, and would make a great mixer for a summer cocktail. I was surprised to see they also now have a hard cider, which originally launched as a special edition product last summer to celebrate Sun-Rype’s 70th anniversary. It did so well they decided to make it a permanent addition to their product portfolio, which can be found at select private liquor stores in BC and Alberta.
Another discovery at the show was a line of amazing Indian sauces from Sutra Foods. Paul Gill and his wife, Pari, make delicious sauces that are easily transformed into meals with the addition of vegetables or protein. My favourite, the Korma sauce, was as tasty with salmon as it was with chicken. For consumers and foodservice alike, these bagged sauces are a handy option for full-flavoured Indian goodness without having to spend hours in the kitchen.
One of my other favourites at the show was a protein bar made of bugs - crickets that is. Coast Protein uses cricket flour to deliver 10 g of protein per bar. The founder, Dylan Jones, is passionate about increasing the acceptance and consumption of this sustainable protein in North America. The samples I tried were delicious and you really couldn’t tell they contained ground crickets. Kudos to Dylan and his team for creating tasty and nutritious insect-based foods.
As someone who has worked with and for many food & beverage brands across North America, it makes me proud to see these BC-based gems. I think our entrepreneurial spirit is part of the secret sauce that makes the West a hotbed of innovation, especially in healthy and sustainable products. All this continues to feed my desire to help make BC brands a success, across the country and North America, through smart marketing strategies.
I can’t imagine the challenges teachers face in educating students, given the ubiquity of cell phones these days. It is hard enough trying to have an adult-to-adult conversation without someone responding to a text, reading a Tweet or posting their latest thoughts to Facebook. But to be responsible for catching and keeping the attention of those under 18 in order to teach them and prepare them for their future, with the constant lure of technology surrounding us, is a Herculean task.
The reach of technology has expanded to the point where essentially everyone is carrying it around in their pocket. As of January 2017, 95% of Americans 18 years and older own a cell phone and 77% of those are smartphones. But it’s not just adults tethered to these devices. In 2015, almost three-quarters of teens aged 13 to 17 reported having or having access to a smartphone and another 30% to a basic phone. Only 12% of teens said they don’t have any kind of cellphone. And it doesn’t stop there. In 2016, the average age for a child to get their first phone was reported to be 10.3 years old. These are kids in elementary school or starting middle school, who are beginning to become self-aware and can be more difficult to deal with.
It is obvious parents have become quite comfortable supplying their children with the latest in hand-held technology. But how are schools and teachers managing this rising tide of device-equipped students? For the most part, they have been tackling this challenge on a school-by-school basis, as they see best, across North America. The result is a range of approaches from no limits whatsoever to no use of cell phones during class, and now an all-out ban.
Last month, a Canadian middle school for grades 7 and 8 (in Victoria, BC) announced a complete ban on cellphones and Internet-connected iPods, starting with the new school year in September. Currently their students can bring cell phones to school but they are not allowed to take them to class. However, that policy has not been working as well as hoped. The school is finding that students are not able to manage the distractions of their phones, resulting in some conflicts with each other and with teachers. Hence the decision to proceed with a complete ban. There will be a few exceptions allowed but those students will need to hand in their cellphones at the start of the day and will only get them back when the school day is done.
Parents’ reactions to this new policy are mixed. Some argue that technology should be used as a learning tool. But this particular school already has many computers and tablets that they use to facilitate education when appropriate. The school sees the ban as the only way to reduce unnecessary distractions and improve the learning environment. And there many other parents who agree with that thinking. Right or wrong, the ban will definitely impact parents, teachers and kids alike when the next school year begins.
I have a curious mind and many interests. I like to spend time musing about things marketing-related, as well as how technology impacts our world.