What does the internet taste like?

As we find ourselves increasingly within a digital-first world, many of our senses are less applicable - so how can our senses join the digital party?

I don’t need to tell you that the internet has and continues to change our lives. While I will argue this is fantastic, it’s not perfect. As humans, we experience the world through our senses and we have lots of them, with neurologists listing up to 21.

For the purposes of this, let’s keep it simple and agree most of us have five senses; sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell – with the recognition that we are all different and not all of us have access to each of these five senses.

Of the five senses listed, in our interactions with the online world, we really only have access to two; sight and hearing. This means we live in a world of sensual deprivation, a world which increasingly discounts touch, taste and smell. The issue is, if we think about being human, touch, taste and smell are extremely important to our everyday lives. They are central to how we interact with the world and each other.

Let’s say you are shopping for a t-shirt. Using sight alone, e.g. a photo on ASOS, how do you truly understand the quality, without being able to touch it? If I were in a shop, the first thing I would do is reach out to feel the material and I bet you would most likely do the same.

When retailing online we try and combat the absence of senses with things like product descriptions and reviews, but this doesn't even come close to being a substitute for the sensory experience we are missing.

It’s because of this that ‘experience’ is seen as a saviour for the bricks and mortar retail. In delivering the bits that can’t be done effectively online, bricks and mortar can win. But for how long?

Tanvas transforms a touchscreen from something you simply touch into something you can actually feel - www.wired.com

Enter organisations like TanvasTanvas have created technology that is able to communicate texture through a flat surface. Their haptic technology ‘modulates friction, to both sense finger position and provides haptics simultaneously’ which is jargon for, you can feel things like they are really there, when they aren’t. This means that in the case of shopping for a t-shirt, Tanvas would enable you to feel the material virtually. While the technology has some way to go, it represents a huge step forward in enabling new senses to join the digital party.

So what about taste and smell?

When I’m watching Jamie Oliver tell me how much better his food is than Turkey Twizzlers, I currently have to take his word for it as I can’t smell or taste it. As a child (80’s/90’s) I remember a number of ‘smell-o-vision’ TV shows that combined a TV programme with scratch and sniff, to enhance the experience. The concept of combining scent with films was actually something that was first done in the early 1900’s, before even the introduction of sound in film. But here we are circa 100 years later, and I don’t yet have my smell-o-vision. By creating the technology to deliver this, we would soon find ourselves living in a world where we could ‘eat’ as much junk food as desired, without the side effects.

The Project Nourished headset provides visual simulation of environment and alters the aesthetics of food - www.projectnourished.com

This is exactly the question that Project Nourished are looking to answer by creating a product that allows participants to experience fine dining without concern for caloric intake or other health-related issues.

Using this approach, soft drinks manufacturers could move to a virtual model and avoid things like sugar tax. I could drink a glass of water, but use technology to make it taste like a strawberry milkshake. We could potentially end obesity and associated disease and create disruption across multiple markets including;

  • Healthcare – end obesity and associated disease.
  • Health & fitness – control diet, without compromise on experience or taste.
  • Food & beverage – fundamentally change the experience. Virtual bars, restaurants or just create a better food experience everywhere all the time.

So to answer the question, what does the internet taste like? Anything you want.

Feel free to continue the conversation, drop me an email directly to ritchie.brett@383project.com and we can sample some other flavours…