Sunday, May 19, 2013

What a day for a daydream

“I once lost a pair of earrings and tried to Google them”. So says my byline on this very blog, as it has for the past three or four years. Only, lately, it’s just not that funny anymore. It’s not funny because it’s possible. Between Google and “the internet of things” the ability to search the internet for the location of unique, physical objects is happening, has happened.

Daydream by Lovin' Spoonful on Grooveshark

And in a good, excited, optimistic way, I am completely freaked out. In such a short space of time we’ve gone from plugging things in and getting them to work, to Steve Jobs’ vision for things that “just work”, and now we’re into stuff that is working all the time while you’re just busy enjoying life. Which is exactly what technology should be about - because right now, sitting as we are on the corner of Everything and Everywhere, our relationship with technology is demented. Look around - we’re all hunched over phones and laptops like voluntary returnees to stage numero uno of Darwin’s evolution of man. Yes, Google Glass may be ridiculous, but at least we’re walking upright again.

It’s not just the hardware that’s messing us up, either. The other day at lunch I casually mentioned to my fellow colleagues how I sometimes dream in browser windows. Silent stares from the (ever so slightly) older generation, nods of understanding from my contemporaries. “When I was in a long distance relationship, I would dream of my boyfriend’s Facebook profile” admitted one. A quick Twitter poll revealed similar experiences, @culturalelite recounted how he’s “had dreams where I tried to right-click physical things to ‘inspect element’ and look at the source”. And @kowchow has spent her sleepytime in the realms of the Airbnb interface and Adobe software. Seriously, WTF?

What all this reveals is that while our brains have been busy blurring the line between the online and offline even as we sleep, technology is running to keep up. Google, connected devices, voice recognition, heads-up displays and machine learning are not only evolving but finally converging. Converging towards a future that’s just like the past - when we stood up straight, took time to notice and appreciate the people and environment around us, and dreamed - not of the multi-tabbed browsing of our present - but of the unimagined amazingness of our future.

10 Films from the 80s and 90s illuminate today's tech glossary

1. Start-ups
Ghostbusters - four guys with varying skillsets develop a unique hardware solution in order to improve city life. A distinct tag line helps them go viral.

2. Sheryl Sandberg's "lean in" culture
Working Girl - With "a head for business and a bod for sin", Tess discovers what she's capable of when she's "not afraid".

3. Crowd-funding
Empire Records - A group of music store employees offer perks of badges and booze to the general public in a bid to raise enough cash to "Damn the man" and "Save the Empire".

4. VC Funding
Wall Street - a bright young whipper snapper gets the investment he needs, but discovers only too late that the provision of lunch was not included in the small print.

5. Beta Testing
Jurassic Park - A potentially game-changing new experiential start-up selects a small group for Beta testing. They don't make it to SXSW

6. Google Glass
They Live - A drifter discovers that the ruling class are in fact aliens managing human social affairs through the use of a signal on top of the TV broadcast, concealing their appearance and subliminal messages in mass media. #ifihadglass

7. Rapid Prototyping
Home Alone - a child genius creates a self-inflicted bootcamp and uses iterative development techniques to innovate simple solutions to petty crime.

8. User Experience
Weird Science - two cyberneticists build a humanoid robot with a focus on user needs.

9. Quantified Self
Groundhog Day - By tracking himself over a length of time and assessing the data, Phil is able to improve relationships and lead a better lifestyle.

10. Aquihiring
ET - A foreign entrepreneur recruits an entire team of American specialists to help overcome serious logistical and communication issues.