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The smartphone revolution has permanently changed the way we manage our public and private identities. How we conducted ourselves used to differ depending on whether we were at work, at home, with our friends or on a date. We were defined by context.

In the ten years since the iPhone was launched, context has died.

Now we carry around work, dating, family and friends at all times. Our work files, inappropriate jokes and family photo album share the same six inch screen, duelling for attention through a barrage of alerts and notifications.

Latimer recently conducted a piece of research for Samsung, looking to understand the lifestyles of pioneering phone users in London and New York to power a major piece of user-centred design.

We conducted depth interviews, lifestyle mapping and digital ethnography with twenty millennials, including entrepreneurs, young parents, early adopters and socialisers. They loved their phones. Their phones were part of every aspect of their lives, they wanted more integration, not less. Phones allowed entrepreneurs to be entrepreneurs 24/7. They allowed young parents not to be parents 24/7 and interact with other adults.

We knew going in that always on connections have work-life balance was a thing of the past. What was surprising was the degree to which digital identity management has become work.

Not just in the sense of time-spent balancing the private identities of work, family and social lives, millennials spend increasing amounts of time and effort managing their public identities; their digital brand.

In fact, building a digital brand identity is the millennial career. It’s widely quoted that millennials don’t stay in a job for more than two years. They take advantage of the gig economy and value flexible, creative careers. This means that the value of references, CVs and career progression has fundamentally changed. A career used to be a story told in the third person, through references and performance reviews and pay rises.

A millennial’s career is told in the first person through their digital brand. It is curated in real time and encompasses work, creative projects, topical commentary and resource sharing.
The smartphone, the ultimate first person device, makes this possible. Recording, optimising and sharing content from your own point of view has never been more simple. But the demands of maintaining these identities is far from easy.

So how do you balance building your public brand with your current work identity and making genuine interactions with friends and family through one device? Our sample had one clear answer. They want their phone to help them.
There was a clear desire for their devices to get smarter in order to understand their user’s needs and moods based on context, their life’s rhythms and importantly when needed to be left alone. They were happy to give more personal information to make that happen.

The smartphone killed context. Now we need Artificial Intelligence to bring it back to life in new, smarter ways.