Spike Jonze's movie Her tells the story of a man who falls in love with a female-voiced operating system. While clearly a work of science fiction, this exploration into the ever-closer relationship between humans and computers does not seem all that far-fetched when you consider the emergence of screenless technologies.
This is a development that content creators should be keenly aware of, since the mainstreaming of screenless tech, such as the voice-activated Google Glass or Apple's voice-controlled software, Siri, could bring about a shift in how content is created, consumed, and shared.
The impact for content creators will be great, says Matt Petersen, CEO of content marketing consulting firm McMurry/TMG, who adds that this technology creates an additional dimension to content.
"It's not really a channel for content in the way that print is a channel and video is another," he says. "Rather, it becomes the signal that triggers the delivery of localized and personalized content for a new consumer
mindset in a way that transcends a screen or a page."
For example, it is unlikely that someone would read a text-heavy press release if they are using Google Glass, rather than a desktop, tablet, or smartphone.
"An increasingly always-on, measuring, quantified-self world will continue to evolve new-user behaviors and expectations," explains Petersen.
As well as enabling content to be consumed in new ways, screenless tech also allows it to be created differently. Weber Shandwick recently created a WordPress plug-in for Google Glass that enables users to create visual content using voice commands, which uploads to blogs.
"Because this is a text-based world, we are accustomed to seeking content through set structures and having it returned the same way," says Greg Swan, SVP of brand innovation and digital strategy at Weber. "If I want to know where to get a cup of coffee in Rochester, NY, I will search, ‘coffee, Rochester, NY,' and assume I can find my answer in the first few results."
"However, screenless tech creates a different interplay," he adds. "Interacting with Siri, for example, requires a different taxonomy for organizing and creating content."
Swan says this doesn't mean text-based content will disappear, but the adoption of screenless tech will mean it will be amplified by context, just as video and images have complemented text-based content in recent times. Many content creators have attempted to meet the surge in smartphone usage by making mobile-first content or repurposing existing material for smaller screens. However, they should be mindful of the time spent producing content for a specific channel or device, only to find that a new one comes out.
"It is a hamster wheel you can never get off," says Sara Wachter-Boettcher, content strategy consultant.
She suggests content creators prepare for this tech by streamlining content and organizing it in smaller, more portable chunks to account for the fact that they will have less control over where and how it is consumed.
"A lot of content production is still tied to print journalism," she adds. "Breaking free of that mindset is a huge challenge and opportunity for the PR industry.
"Take a look at what you are producing and question, is the content in this format because that's the way you always do it? Or is it the most useful way to share things?"
As voice-activation technology grows in popularity, the industry will see "a migration from visual communications to audio," explains Chris Bowler, group VP of social at Razorfish.
"Content consumed on the go will lead to a retooling of skills," he adds. "We will need a mix of copywriters and content creators who are not just able to deliver information, but also entertainment. In the voice-activated world, content creators will need to know how to speak to someone in a more conversational way."
While these technologies have kinks to iron out and current adoption rate is still low, keeping on top of innovation means content creators will not have to play catch-up nor see the masses of content they produce now ending up on the scrap heap.But they should embrace change, rather than fear it. As Weber's Swan puts it: "The skill is lifelong learning, because everything that changed will change again."