New technology makes life easier, new technology is infuriatingly difficult. We are more inclined to see drawbacks than progress and productivity growth. The danger in this is that we stop believing in Utopias, a better future.
We have developed future blindness, says American technology guru Kevin Kelly.
His new book, The Inevitable, an insightful and thought-provoking reflection on the future of us and our devices, is this year’s best book on technology. Kelly is worth listening to because he is an old hippy, and converts give the best sermons.
We tend to think about technology in a naive and nostalgic way by turns. We believe that things were once easy and almost problem-free: using landline telephones was so much easier.
Then we move on to grumbling that if engineers would only think like real people, our endless operating system problems would be solved and our household smart devices would live in endless harmony.
Wrong and wrong again.
Kelly claims that technology has entered a new phase of what he refers to as becoming, of ceaseless transformation. The technological life of the future will be a series of endless upgrades. Features will come and go, default values will not last, menus and user interfaces will transform.
In other words, we will all, more or less, be first-graders in technology – permanently. However, this is not always due to poor user interface design, but the unavoidable, amoeba-like transformation of technology.
The technologies used in fifteen years’ time have not yet been invented and those that are familiar now will change shape kaleidoscopically. In the digital world, the journey from idea to landfill is amazingly short. The average lifespan of a phone application is now just 30 days.
But, because we have future blindness, we no longer see the progress in evolution, but only stagnation, and start to complain.
Whereas futurists once ardently tried to peer into the future, demand has dried up for journeys forward in time. Our Utopias never transpired; the carefree and cheerful plastic future of the Jetsons of 1960s TV fame turned out to be frightening and dangerous. Robots will destroy ordinary people’s jobs, AI is already plotting the destruction of humanity and that damned PC just crashed again.
So we decide that it is safer to cling to the present and are nostalgic about the past.
We think that the true golden age of technology, the age of enormous potential, has gone by. We recall the colourful early days of the Internet and the bold, entrepreneurial types who changed people’s behaviour and made fortunes in the process. Wrong again, points out Kelly.
In 1990, we understood nothing at all about the Internet. Ten years later, we imagined it to be a giant TV with 10,000 channels and wondered what kind of company is capable of producing all those programmes. The company in question is, of course, Humanity Ltd, and the Internet has nothing to do with TV.
In the same way, we know nothing about the Internet and technologies of 2044. That is why, in their turn, the veterans of the 2040s will entertain youngsters with stories of how great it was to be an innovator in 2017, when it was all just getting started.
Wake up, Kelly says – the Internet is only becoming. We are at the very beginning, where every clear-sighted person can see that the best time to start a new business is right now.
Director, Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA