The One Predictable Thing About Technology
Making predictions about anything is a tricky business. It’s often fraught with problems and compounded by two factors: too many variables and too many people.
Making predictions in the world of technology is about as rough as it gets. You see a trend, a fad, or a new craze, jump on it, extrapolate, and then go and get it all totally wrong.
As an example, at the turn of the 20th century, it was predicted that passenger air balloon travel – pioneered by the likes of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin – would be commoditized and become the pre-eminent means of mass transit. In fact, it would be so popular, by the 1980s, people would have their own personal air balloon as their primary method of conveyance.
Obviously, this gaze into the future didn’t take into account the airplane, which put an end to that pearl of foresight.
The main problem with looking forward is that people do it in such painfully straight lines, as the previous example demonstrates. The telephone is another useful example; who could have predicted mobile phones at the time Alexander Graham Bell was fussing around with the technological equivalent of paper cups and wet string?
No one could have. Furthermore, how could anyone have predicted that these mobile telephones would one day have cameras built in? Or that you could send written messages on them? You only have to go back 10 years, and such ideas would be derided as foolish drivel.
The future is a curly thing, and in the wonderful world of information technology, the driving force behind much of the confusion is convergence.
Now there’s a buzzword if I ever heard one. And this becomes the next big problem with predicting future trends in technology: let’s get two really cool gizmos and merge them; people will love it!
Err, no! What drives desire is anyone’s guess. What drives need is utility: two very different parts of the brain are being exercised, here, one more than the other!
If something doesn’t fulfill a practical purpose, then it’s neither use nor ornament.
This future-predicting thing is even harder these days, but in a way, even the most outlandish theory could have its day. Things are changing so quickly that new technologies are emerging literally overnight. And given that people’s needs are also changing, evolving, and emerging, who knows?
Going back even further, desire, need – call it what you will – has a common source. The very engine of change is people, society, lifestyle, and a requirement to manage, re-route and/or if need be, delegate all of this data and information.
The Apple Newton was way ahead of its time. A bunch of clever guys ‘n’ gals sat in a room and made a remarkable prediction about how people would “consume” data and information, and they were right on the money – the only problem being that they were over 10 years early!
Now, people are on the move. People work on the move, hold down long-distance relationships, work with colleagues across time zones, and manage bank accounts in a cafe while drinking a cup of chai.
The only certainty is the same one that has been pontificated upon since time immemorial: things change. Things often come together in intriguing, mysterious, and eminently useful ways.