‘We shape our tools and therefore our tools shape us’ — Marshall McLuhan
The Futures Company‘s Andrew Curry opened his Technology 2020 briefing this morning with Jurassic Park, John Major at the proverbial podium, and Whitney Houston circa The Bodyguard. Three artifacts from 1993, the year telecommunications company, AT&T released the advertisement below as part of their You Will campaign. As you may notice the advertisement was alarmingly correct in some ways, and off the mark in others. Nostalgia: when did our vision of the future become too gadget-driven to dream about the larger picture? I remember 1993. Ace of Base saw The Sign, Lisa Bonet and Lenny Kravitz parted ways, I had short, fat braids and very bony knees. The Future was an enticing blur. What happened?
The same thing that always happens. The Future came and went, and we continued to shape our tools so that they may in turn shape us. There’s a tendency to believe that we’re living in a unique innovation age, and that’s certainly the case temporally, but people have held that very belief at every stage throughout (Her)story. Curry argued that we are witnessing the beginning of a plateau in the Deployment Period of our current tech development phase, despite having built up equal parts anxiety and euphoria over an assumed acceleration in innovation. Indeed, we can complete tasks on our mobile phones that come straight of the Future described in the AT&T ad, but technology has always enabled new, marvelous changes. Curry encouraged us to avoid causal narratives, and to think about nuances rather than stock assumptions. Nuances reveal the rich, tech-enabled social changes we see around us. These were his thoughts on how to navigate the dominant paradigm:
1. Technology is expanding at a faster pace than ever before: An increase in uptake adds to the feeling of fast paced technological innovation. However, Curry suggested that we may be at the end of an innovation cycle, or at least very well into the second half of a surge (to use Perez’s language). Our tools and their capabilities may be expanding, but not necessarily at a faster pace than ever before.
2. We can’t predict future technologies: Yes, we sort of can. We know that data, devices, screens and sensors (DDSS) will impact all areas of life over the next decade. We can therefore think about change as a subway map with a few concrete stops and a handful of stations that may disappear over time. This makes giving directions challenging, but at least we have a map. DDSS is certain, and we have more predictive power than we think.
3. Mobile is the next Big Thing: True, but not quite true yet. We’re moving towards more sophisticated mobile technology, which will take flight after 2016. The biggest change will be the adoption of 4G networks which will offer faster transfer speeds, more robust service, more security, and better multimedia support. Mobile is a Big Thing, but it is poised to evolve.
4. Millennials use technology in fundamentally different ways than other generations: Curry identified four Millennial segments, challenging the notion that there is a single identity and set of values for young people all over the world. Indeed, Millennials use technology in different ways than other generational cohorts do, but usage across the globe is varied. Curry went on to show a map showing the dispersion of Millennial segments (as identified by The Futures Company’s Global Monitor), which sadly skipped over Africa, my home and region of interest. However, his argument for segmentation was intriguing.
5. ‘Always on’ is the future: Always on with the ability to switch off easily and unevenly is more like it. Layered access is the future — we may want to switch off entirely, or remain open to different groups and individuals at different times. We therefore have to think more critically about designing for users who wish to switch between modes at will.
Curry’s ‘layered access’ proposition resonated with me more than any other. In fact, I think the promise of a Future that supports the right to limit our exposure to communication technologies in particular has a nostalgic glow — like the promise of resurrecting dinosaurs.
See more Futures Company Future Perspectives here.