I was listening to a neat little podcast called Ctrl-Walt-Delete the other day. Those of you who are computer nerds will understand why that name is so perfect.
The two podcasters, Walt Mossberg and Nilay Patel, are smart, funny and witty, and I always learn something new or rethink something I thought I knew when I listen to to them.
The April 28th episode took a long look back at the tech predictions made by Walt when he wrote for the Wall Street Journal back in the day. It was fascinating to listen to how he had very carefully schooled the readers of that paper on exactly what a CD-ROM was, how the hardware of the day worked, and most interesting of all, what he saw coming in the next couple of decades. He was remarkably spot on with some of his thoughts about the future.
Other famous tech folk, Steve Jobs foremost among them, were said to be able to see what was coming fifteen or twenty years before it was a gleam in anyone else’s eye. Jobs was famous for saying that his company, Apple Computer, was in the business of making products that people didn’t even know they wanted or needed yet. Think back to the time just before the launch of the iPhone around 2007, and recall the delicious irony as wide-eyed technology worshippers lined up around the first publically displayed iPhone, under glass no less, and snapped picture after picture of it- with digital cameras. Now, walk down the street in any locale and try your best to find a digital camera. People’s phones are their cameras in 2016.
It’s fun to look back at how we looked forward.
I remember very well indeed the day I stood at the island in my kitchen ( some things never change-I’m standing at the bar in my kitchen as I write this), white plastic MacBook open and humming along, surfing websites. I had been told that there was a rumor that a small, handheld device was coming. It would be a multifunction device, one that was connected like a phone or computer, but wirelessly. It would be able to run little programs called apps and it might even (gasp) do a pretty good job at playing music! No way. I found a picture of the prototype.
No matter how much it cost on release, I knew I would buy one. It was that simple. The lure of holding the future in my hands was just too powerful and strong.
I have long since lost count of how many iPhones and iPads I have owned since 2007.
There is talk recently, after Apple’s quarterly earnings call this week announced the first year over year decrease in income for the first time in thirteen years, that the iPhone, indeed the smart phone cycle is now on the downside. Much like the iPod before it, all the rage when it debuted as “1000 songs in your pocket”, the smartphone may have tricked itself out as much as technologically possible, and have little else to wow us with. Not that it is dead, mind you. I count my iPhone 6 as my primary computing device today in many ways. However, we may all be waiting, and holding our breath for, the next big thing.
Will it be virtual reality? I don’t know about you, but dealing with actual reality taxes my aging brain more and more these days, and excites me often enough that I’m not sure I need to know how virtually happy I might be in another dimension or time.
Augmented reality, then? I might meet you halfway there, as I love to travel, experience new places and things, and that type of input might just make my trips and activities that much more enlightening and entertaining and educational in the bargain.
Will we roll up our screens and put them in our pockets as we head out the door each morning? Will we visit our great-grandchildren holographically, or will we instead be whisked in real life to their door in a driverless, automatic car?
Will we wear our computing chips, or have them implanted in our arms?
Why do some of us put off thinking about the future?
What do we hope for? Immortality?
What do we fear? Obsolescence?
Do we think that there is nothing left for man to invent? (We should certainly know better by now)
How much can we absorb, and how fast? 90% of the world’s data has been created within the last two years. It is conceivable that all current knowledge could cycle and change and renew itself in months, weeks, even days before too many more decades. Fascinating, and scary as hell. How to keep up?
I will be eighty-four years old, God willing, in late 2041, just twenty five years from now.
My current grandchildren (Yes, of course I’m hopeful for more!) will be thirty-one, twenty-nine, and twenty-seven.
What will their world, or the world of their children, be like?
How will my world, my personal existence, have changed?
We talk, we guess, we dream, we scheme, we plan, we design. We try to make ourselves believe that we hold the future in our hands, that we control it, that we fashion it and create it and bend it to our will.
I’m not so sure about that. I think we know, deep down, that we have little control, really.
We are fascinated by and drawn to the future, while we so very desperately cling to the past.
I hope to see you there.