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Reality Check: Method's Sam Ramlu

As part of Idealog's Technology Month, we've picked the brains of some of the movers and shakers in the industry to find out their favourite tech-related things, their biggest fears for the future and what other companies and individuals inspire their work. Here's Method Digital managing director Sam Ramlu.

What’s your favourite…

Technology you can’t live without?

Please don’t take my tech away! I think I’d find it pretty impossible to survive without the internet, my iPhone, and my laptop. And then specific apps and sites such as TripAdvisor, online banking, online food shopping, online anything shopping basically.

Underrated or old technology?

Using your smartphone as an actual phone. What a novelty! Either just picking up the phone and talking to a client or colleague, or just having a good old chat with friends or family. Especially friends and family. I feel like I “talk” to my sister almost every day but I only hear her voice every couple of months.

We have so many ways to communicate now and we’re always hearing about how much more connected we are but I’d love to find just five percent more time in my life for more face-to-face connections. 

And I think gaming has always been seen as underrated or not a very attractive pastime or hobby.

New Zealand tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?

There are lots of cool NZ companies in the tech space (Rocket Lab – rockets in NZ! Wingnut, 8i, Nanogirl, Tech Futures Lab) but I also like how companies that aren’t tech based are using it in new ways to engage with their audience or exploring ways to use it and better their messaging.

One example is Ngati Whatua Orakei who we’re doing a few projects with at the moment. There’s a real passion there to find new ways of sharing stories and experiences and tech is just helping make these so much more immersive, engaging, and accessible. It’s inspiring to see and exciting to be able to make some amazing collaborative ideas come to life.

There are many others who are embracing tech more and more and taking risks. They help companies like us to showcase what tech can do.

Global tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?

Well, can’t talk about cool tech without bringing up Elon Musk right? He just goes about realising his vision. Magic Leap if it ever actually launches! 

Tech project or product you’ve had a hand in?

Ah, this one’s so hard to nail down to one! We’re always trying to push the boundaries but also making sure that it’s never tech for tech’s sake. There has to be a purpose and it has to link with business objectives otherwise it’s wasted effort. (Shameless plug starts) I think the EEG brainwave mapping projects we’ve done for Unitec have been challenging but immensely rewarding, the sustainability dashboard we developed for Wynyard Quarter which brings live data to life, we had a lot of fun building giant LED, motion sensor enabled wickets for our Heart Kids Quickest Little Wicket project, and everything AR and VR we’re doing at the moment! (Shameless plug over)
 

Tech project or product that isn’t yours, but you’re envious of?

Uh – rockets! Specifically Rocket Lab’s. Such a great success story out of NZ. Also, Sir Ray Avery’s LifePods are amazing – anything that helps save kids’ lives has my vote. There needs to be much more focus on using tech for good.

And I’m totally geeking out on Galaxies Edge (aka Star Wars Land) that’s launching in 2019. Would have been amazing to work on something like that.

What first drew you to this industry?

We started Method back in 2003 so we’ve been around a (long!) while. At that stage it was much more web related – there were no such things as apps (we did have wifi though) or VR as we know it today. So for me it was about how engaging we could make a website. How could we make that time more enjoyable, engaging, immersive. So much so that you wanted to spend more time enjoying it. That also came from being gamers I suppose. And I think that philosophy hasn’t changed even though the landscape has immensely. You’ll always hear me harping on about how we can make something engaging, immersive, and enjoyable. Getting an emotional connection or reaction, and offering a surprise and delight experience.  

What do you enjoy the most about working in tech?

All the amazing possibilities! I keep thinking we may run out of creative ideas and I hate that we end up shelving so many great ones that have potential. But there’s always a new one (or ten) waiting.

And, that every single day I find or learn something new. It’s always interesting and challenging.

How would you describe New Zealand’s tech culture?

Burgeoning, inspiring, hands on. I’d like to see a bit more collaboration to take on the larger, internationals or play a bigger game. There’s just so much potential here but our market makes it tough sometimes to capitalise and then as an industry we can fall behind whereas we could be leading the space.

Where does inspiration come from for you?

Movies, music, books, zoos, theme parks, libraries, museums, articles, travel, games…funnily enough a lot of my inspiration for tech can come from things that are low tech. My 3-year-old son Jesse is always hugely inspiring – whether he’s solving puzzles, building with Lego, interacting with apps and books, or how he plays with his animal figures. Children in general are inspiring – they can see magic in things we often think are trivial or commonplace. I love that sense of wonder and discovery. And I love being able to bring this out in our projects – for both kids and adults.

Reality check

How has tech impacted on your work? How will it impact on it in the future?

It gives us more ways to tell amazing stories, communicate, and solve problems. Tech doesn’t drive what we do, rather I think it’s a great enabler and gives us breadth, scope, and unique ways to get a message through and to encourage engagement. It also opens up lots of possibilities for us to segue into entertainment and education and I think that’s going to be a big focus for us alongside what we’re already doing.

What’s been the most concerning change that technology has made to human behaviour, in your experience?

That lack of personal connection and our constant busy-ness. Also the feeling that we have to be across everything and information overload! I think more Sunday afternoons playing board games or just chatting over wine and cheese with a bunch of friends is a great remedy.

How would you describe your relationship with technology? Do you think you’re addicted to any form of it?

Fully addicted – to my laptop and my phone. I know I need to switch off more often and pick up that book on my bedside table. It’s so much easier now to default to tech.

Do you think social media is a blessing or a curse?

It’s a hard one – I think I’d probably say both. It’s great to keep up to date with friends and family but I don’t know if I need to know everything that’s going on in everyone’s lives and for others to know everything about our lives. I’ve wasted so much time scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed on stuff that really doesn’t matter or make a difference to my life.

Do you think technology needs more laws surrounding it, or a form of resource consent regulation?

Certain forms of technology yes, but I wouldn’t want growth or discovery to be stifled or restricted.

What needs to be done to tackle the diversity issue in tech?

Education from a younger age – down to preschool level I think. Companies like GirlBoss, MindLab, and Nanogirl are doing wonderful things to get more girls, women, and a cross section of kids across tech and the wonderful potential careers. We’ve got such a wide range of genders and cultures in our office but it’s happened completely by default. We’ve hired based on skill and attitude. But, it is difficult to hire more women developers when 95 percent of applicants are men.

What worries you the most about technology?

That it may replace certain aspects of life that work quite well without technology. 

What’s your scariest prediction for the future? Will the robots kill us all?

No – I don’t think so. Well, I hope not. Scariest prediction is a world like Ready Player One (where’re all plugged into a virtual reality world) but I’m hoping we all enjoy living life much much more than playing it.

What will New Zealand look like as a country in 2037?

I’d like to think we’d be seen as a country that punches above its weight. But, in saying that, I’d also like to see us as equals – not playing catchup with other countries or being highlighted because we’re small – but because we’re creating equally compelling and ground breaking solutions as the larger countries. Cleaner, greener, sustainable, less families living in poverty, no homelessness, lower suicide rate, better diversity and equality…ha – that’s my world peace answer but hopefully it’s not all just wishful thinking.