Won’t somebody please think of the future?

Posted on 01/05/2013


When technology’s visionaries can’t even excite us about the future, things are looking grim.
About (Eric) Schmidt, Google CEO

Eric Schmidt is a douche. For years, we (the people who use and design technology) have laughed at Microsoft’s attempts to peddle their devices and ecosystem by “predicting the future 5 years from now”. Weirdly, their future has always been today’s technology, implemented wholesale across even the smallest and most insignificant parts of our lives.

See for yourself:

Microsoft’s “future”, circa 2011

Microsoft’s “future”, circa 2013

Now, Mr Schmidt has set Google on the same path by pretending to know the future. You can’t deny that the company has a fantastic handle on the present (based on the enormous amount of current and past Internet and mobile usage data the company is amassing), and on the past. Naturally they’re having a huge impression on shaping the future (with the Glass project and Android platform), but can anyone know the future too? Really..?

Schmidt’s future is ridiculous, because it so closely resembles the future that people have predicted for us since the 1950s. Of course it’s utopic, but it’s also uninspiring. Human action has been reduced to a roman emperor’s gesture: a thumbs up for death, a thumbs down for life. We are positioned as the fat, lazy ruler in an empire of technology. I don’t believe I for a second.

Firstly because of the level of new discovery. Once again it’s taking existing technology and spreading it like polyfiller, wherever there’s a potential crack or blemish in our existence that needs smoothing. Secondly because it’s so hideously seamless. When has technology ever been so perfect, so flawless? In the early days we struggled with dial-up internet, where the most interesting and interactive pages took a minute or more to load. Now, even with beautiful broadband, we can’t stream movies and television as fast as we want to consume it. Our demand for speed and ubiquity will always outstrip what is currently available.

But finally, it’s because we don’t buy technology where the impact isn’t immediate or substantial. It will be a long time before we buy computer optimised mattresses, rather than relying on Jawbone’s UP or a sleep app(link) to help us. We wouldn’t waste our time buying haptic shoes to remind us when we’re late; we’ve barely got used to the digital pedometer.

Looking at how tech has emerged over the past 30 years, it’s rarely embedded and usually an afterthought. Some cars have GPS, but most people still buy sat navs that they stick on to the dashboard. They’ve even started replacing these with their own phones. The same’s true of stereo’s: most people use an iPhone, inelegantly plugged in to some form of speaker. For those who care, there will always be specialised technology; for most people, we make do and mend.

It’ll be a long time before we replace our wooden tables, with touch screen surfaces. We don’t integrate technology, we throw it in and work around it. It’s disappointing that the CEO of Google, one of the most successful technology companies of our era, can’t see any differently.