An End to Magic
Seth Godin's blog today
has a great short post that very much sums up what I am feeling at the moment in regard to tech, the internet and computers. This is the back half of his post:
I remember eagerly opening my copy of Wired every month (fifteen years ago). On every page there was something new and sparkly and yes, magical.
No doubt that there will be magic again one day... magic of biotech, say, or quantum string theory, whatever that is. But one reason for our ennui as technology hounds is that we’re missing the feeling that was delivered to us daily for a decade or more. It’s not that there’s no new technology to come (there is, certainly). It’s that many of us can already imagine it.
First off, bonus points for such a perfect use of the word: ennui
. After the above post, I think I want to get that word printed on a tshirt or something.
It’s not that there’s no new technology to come (there is, certainly). It’s that many of us can already imagine it.
I think this is really the crux of it for me. With as fast as things are changing, we can imagine things changing even faster. And for the things that are currently changing, there are rapid continual refinements rather than revolutions.
But more than that, and it's not captured in Godin's post, I think there is a lack of need. "Satisfied needs do not motivate". Current technology is doing such a great job of satisfying our needs for information and entertainment, that there isn't the need or desire to see what will be invented next to make information and entertainment even more relevant, prelevant and efficiently distributed.
I just watched the video on the Makerbot's
home page. I've been following the Makerbot project from a distance for awhile. It's a facinating device for a not unobtainable price of $1,299
. I also spent a little bit of time this morning on Thingiverse.com
which is the Makerbot site for Makerbot users to display their constructs and plans. It's all very neat stuff, and if you squint at these two sites you can see a possible revolutionary future. Or maybe not.
As recent as June 2007
I posted a youtube video I saw of a One-Off Paperback book printer
. At the time I thought such a thing could be revolutionary. Bookstores could be tiny little stores in the mall, you would print a book with as much concern as you would print digital photos at Meijer or Walgreens. And at that time it should have been revolutionary. But there was only a few year window for that opportunity. As it has turned out, the commercial market has passed on it, and now there will probably not be book stores at all in a few years because Kindle and Tablet devices have rendered printed paperbacks completely unnecessary. A possible future has been eliminated (or at the very least postponed to be resurrected later as a niche boutique device once ereader's so dominate that there is the potential for paperbacks to become retro in the same way vinyl records are today.)
There are all sorts of these ideas that could be revolutionary but will just miss their window for the masses. And there are just as many of these revolutions that at the moment, we think are settled that continue to evolve. Will we continue to buy iTunes music or will we just pay to listen to free Pandora type streaming? DVD ownership is already dying due to Netflix and Redbox. When was the last time other than Apple's iMac line that you really noticed any tech stories about desktop computers or laptop computers (larger than a netbook?) With no excitement in the platforms, the software stagnates as well.
Go iOS Apps, go HTML 5, and go Webward all the blogs say. Smartphones are such up and coming platforms (about 40% in the US at current), yet 90% of the people in the US with a computing device probably have a desktop or laptop already. The installed base is phenomenal, but nothing much is being done with it. Google spent their big developer conference touting the fact that they could do 3D graphics in the browser. Nice, but really, it's a major yawn. 3D on a laptop or a desktop has been settled tech for 2 decades. But yet, over the next few years, all the brightest minds will be working on figuring out how to do what we already know how to do in a program in a browser instead because at the moment buying apps over the web is shiny and Microsoft doesn't have a Windows App Store that works.
If Barnes and Noble would have put in and heavily promoted a one-off book printing machine, would ereaders have got such a foothold so fast? (Remember how much people protested the concept of reading on a screen, and protested black and white, so many anti-ereader posts by people who never saw eink and thought from pictures it was like their black and white casio watch LCDs.) If Microsoft would have developed a clean way of buying apps online and installing them without weaving incompatible drivers all throughout your Windows OS folder, and if Asus would have put out a $250 Touchscreen tablet with such an app store, would all the world be fawning over the iPad in quite the same way today?
The shorthand in science fiction alternate realities is to see blimps flying over major cities, because it's easy to imagine that without the Hindenburg disaster, blimps would have continued to be a fixture of our skylines. What are the future's blimps? What are the tech opportunities being stalled right now that will miss their windows of opportunities to take hold as fixtures of the future and instead be replaced by pale imitations that get just enough right at the right time to take advantage of the empty open path that the front runners stumble and don't tread down?
I'd speculate myself but... at the moment I'm full of ennui and satiated.