Tyler Winkelvoss doesn’t seem as cartoonishly evil in real life.. **you mean movies aren’t true??!!** #nside @ Wythe Hotel (Created with Snapr)
I recently watched the UK TV series ‘Black Mirror’, which is a great show.
Its themes spring from the question ‘if technology is an addiction, what are the side effects?’.
Each episode plays out a futuristic scenario that is a commentary on our current culture.
For example in one episode a Google Glass like gadget called ‘the grain’ allows people to record and replay every moment of their lives (with the option for retrospective digital enhancement including zooming & lip reading..) and a husband obsesses over the details of how his wife interacts with an ex to the point where it becomes destructive.
I wont describe more because you should watch the show. You will most likely come away from it with a (perfectly valid) feeling that digital culture may be something unhealthy.
As someone who is involved with building internet products I think the question at the forefront of many peoples minds is ‘How can I build something that lots of people will use?’.
If you answer this successfully you have a winning lottery ticket. Some of the most successful social apps definitely have cycles of compulsion that border on addiction.
And there are also plenty of products that succeed by being genuinely useful tools, and even entirely new (positive) social paradigms.
But there are fundamental problems at the level of how we use and interact with technology itself.
- How to balance information consumption with having conversations that help us define / shape our own thoughts?
- How do we deal with using computers being an integral part of life, but still be healthy physically, and experience nature?
- How do we use digital technology to document and share our lives without disrupting the actual experiences?
- How do we balance a social existence online with rich real world relationships?
These are not so much questions that can be answered by a single internet product, as questions around how we moderate our interactions with the internet as a whole.
Could we invent a ‘sensitive OS’ that is nice enough to turn itself off every now and again?
If Google Glass type devices become a thing I think their best feature will be the ability to pop them up on your head when you want to show someone you are paying attention.
Wearable computing has a lot of promise - its going to be great when using computers doesn’t involve sitting indoors at a laptop, or fumbling with a portable touch screen (if you think thats bad, remember when you had to sit at a desktop computer in a designated room).
As the internet begins to truly augment our reality the questions above will only become more important.
I don’t have any conclusive thoughts about the answers, but here are some good points starting points for inspiration:
& for discussion - Denis Crowley’s talk @ TEDx
I just listened to Tim Wu’s podcast on Slate where he talks to Neal Stephenson (you should subscribe by the way, its great) and a common theme surfaced - that relative to the first half of the 20th century our generation has made little progress, or perhaps even regressed.
I am a huge fan of Stephenson, but for the same reasons I take issue with Peter Thiel when he says ‘We were promised flying cars, instead we got 140 characters’ it kind of upsets me when people talk about the present, and completely fail to acknowledge how revolutionary the communications technology we have is (aka the Internet).
Stephenson notes that if you took a person from 1900 to 1950 they would have a very hard time explaining the new world they saw when they returned to their own time, but by comparison a person from 1950 visiting the millennial world might not feel like much had changed, they might even feel like things had regressed.
So if the progress we have made is not obviously visible, what is it? Why is it transformative? How is it positive? What has failed?
Firstly though, a note about rates of change - smart phones & tablets have the most rapid adoption rates of all things in 21st century technology
In just thirty years computers have gone from being unwieldily tools of industry, to consumer products, to consumer products that are all networked, to consumer products that are networked and always in your pocket, to consumer products that are all networked and in your pocket, and now theres also another one over there on the couch. The time between each step got shorter.
Next up we have wearable computing - which I don’t think is going to kick off with Google Glass - but I can bet you the time it takes Google Glass to become ‘Ray Ban Glass’ is going to be shorter than what it took for Apples Newton to become the iPhone.
These inventions don’t really change the appearance of the physical world (how will people interpret that question once AR comes into play?) - but they do radically change our ‘selves’ and the way we organise our society.
We have a massive transformation of culture underway, and it is more about the virtual than it is about the physical.
Its in our heads, and its in ‘the cloud’ (A rebranding of the now retro term ‘cyberspace’) as opposed to being something someone would notice walking down the street.
We are not entirely aware what it means yet, but we spend more time in this body-less space than we ever have before.
Hanging out in virtual worlds isn’t new, its the same experience someone might have had in the 17th century reading a novel.
Whats new is the fact that we can define ourselves in that space and interact with others in real time. There’s less regard for pesky old school things like geography, or the fact that its hard to have more than one simultaneous conversation IRL.
Pardon me if I am starting to sound like a late 90’s class on digital culture, and plus that, no-one needs to lecture Neal Stephenson about all this..
If William Gibson was the writer who coined the term ‘cyberspace’ to describe how we might navigate in the virtual, then Neal Stephenson was the guy who imagined we might take on identities there and have a social life, aka ‘The Metaverse’.
So thats why its kinda odd to hear him go on a podcast and say we are not making progress, and not really mention how the crazy shit he wrote about is coming true - even the militarised drones and electric skateboards..
To me it all seems pretty radical.
Perhaps Neal Stephenson agrees, but is he starting to think that its not so great, and hence, not counted as progress?
Whether or not our ‘selves’ are changing for the better in this new digital postspazmatronic world is another long discussion in itself. As far as my 2c goes - its a great time to be born a nerd.
So whats the real problem?
What we are living through right now is the failure (and post failure corruption) of market driven capitalism, not the failure of technological innovation.
The Internet will form the ideological model for the next generation.
And yes that does mean America will have its first cat president.