Sometimes, when I have difficulty relating to other people, I stop to wonder if it’s because I live in the future.
As I was leaving my office last night, I realized that I’m currently living at least a few years into the future. As I flipped the switches for the office lights, I watched our robotic vacuum cleaner meander around the carpeted floors. It may not have the personality of Rosie from the Jetsons, but our Roomba is a part of my daily life nonetheless. When I walked out the door, I wanted to listen to some music on the ride home, so I spoke to my cell phone to instruct it to launch Pandora and start playing some Daft Punk. Not only was the voice command process futuristic, but the music’s eclectic mix of old-school funk and modern electronica is filled with progressive undertones. I listened to a slightly dated Country music song last week, which professed that, “…these bills won’t pay themselves…”. This prompted my snarky internal reply that the songwriter must not have discovered the auto-billpay systems that have mostly automated my finances. As a member of the Quantified Self movement, I have collected more data on my diet, sleep patterns, and physical performance than did most Olympic athletes a generation ago. This provides me with early warning signs when I’m not getting enough sleep, when I’m eating too much sugar, and when my efficiency as a runner or cyclist increases as desired. Everywhere I go, there’s an internet connection, unless I choose to avoid it. With that connection, I can instantly communicate with any person I’ve ever met, on continents around the world, at a net cost of free. For my birthday next year, I’ll be asking for a personal genome assessment – which will cost $99.
There are problems that we have yet to solve. Love vs Hatred. Self-Control vs Addiction. Disease. And there are whole new problems that we have created. The economy. Happiness vs GDP. Texting while driving. Obesity.
Caught in the middle: Anachronisms
The other day at a coffee shop, I watched an employee with a wireless biometric sensor on his wrist walking around the store doing a quality control inspection…on a clipboard. While I’m a huge fan of paper and pencil for creative tasks, it doesn’t seem to make sense for data collection that will eventually be digitized. At a meeting recently, an advisor of mine told me that her (technology) company still operates like it’s the 1980s, but her job is to bring her clients forward from the 1950s. It’s possible that my perspective as an early-adopter of new technology actually puts me at an empathetic disadvantage, especially when trying to sell technology products to enterprise customers.
What is our goal of technological progress? What are we working toward? I have some opinions on this, but there are a few concepts that I think we’re really struggling to deal with. The most prominent is abundance vs scarcity. Food technology has advanced to the point that we have more sustenance than we need to sustain ourselves. Now the Western world has crested the summit of hunger and is sliding down the slope of obesity. The same goes for our advances in information technology. We have no shortage of ways to communicate with each other, yet we waste this on cat pictures. The content of an Ivy League education is freely available on the web, yet the cost of attending public universities continues to rise. We’re at a transition where our skills of acquisition and storage are becoming less important than those of curation and discipline. Imposing a shift like this, so quickly and without the benefit of multi-generational transition time, yields a towering task.
This post was only meant to be a stub. It was a brief mention of a few themes that I’d like to explore in a much longer form. If you’d like to follow along as I begin writing my first book, check out this Google Doc. It’s entirely possible that this will end up not as a novel (as I intend), but as a short story (acceptable), or just an abandoned document (most likely).
I’d like to expand on this eventually, but likely it will remain short. We packed a lot into one week in Austin.
I greatly enjoyed SXSWi 2010. No better place to make connections in the tech startup scene, while chatting with touchscreen UI designers, eating Rudy’s BBQ, catching up with old friends and making new ones, and wishing that AplusK would get out of the way so we could extract a nugget of wisdom from Paul Graham.
My favorite sessions
Ok, so I liked most of the sessions I attended. These are the ones for which I took notes worth sharing:
- Touch + The Holy Grail of Delight: Met the RazorFish guys, lots of insight on what fits in public places between mobile devices and home web shopping
- The Happiness Project: Reminder that “the days are long, but the years are short”, inspiration to cut back to a 1-sentence-per-day journal
- Roadtwip: met Kurt from CitySourced and heard about his adventure into the near future of America
- Third Coast, How to Be a Startup Outside of Silicon Valley: The CrowdSpring guys from Chicago shared how they did it
- Don’t Move! Build a Startup Community Where You Live: Boulder, Portland, and Omaha talk about how they’re growing w/o going
- Why You Aren’t Done Yet: a little shot in the arm from David Heinemeier Hansson from 37Signals
- How Nerds Can Foster Democracy in Local Government: We use tech, we have different perspectives. Time to use them.
- Zero Waste, The Future of Green: Toyota did it. Austin is ambitiously on their way there. Waste is so 20th century.
- Moblizing the Power of Interns and Managing GenY: Our rockstars from Team Alpha could have taught this session.
- Student Startups, Entrepreneurship in the University: why wait? Software and ideas are cheap, your time is prevalent, and your co-founders are sitting next to you in class!
- ‘Seed Combinators’, Startup Incubators 2.0: There was energy in this room! But too few women and 40-yr-olds. Most important session for Awesome Inc.
- Pervasive Games and Playful Experiences, Rendering the Real world: I learned this lesson through a chore challenge for my roommates: Points –> Productivity. Games have always been fun. Mobile devices just make it easier to keep score.
- How The Other Half Lives – Touring The Digital Divide: I may not have an iPhone, but most of the world is struggling to learn how to use a mouse and radio buttons. The internet scares them. How do we help? Discussion led by two librarians.
- How to Save Journalism: Led by Lexingtonian and Fark.com creator Drew Curtis, new and old media discussed their strategies for the future. Pay walls don’t sound fun.
Hung out with some cool people
- On the CapMetro Bus: Baratunde, Alexander, Damien
- Monks of Invention Conclave SXSW 2010: Moshe, Shaun, Pek, Tim, Jason, Andy, Julian, Sasha, Brian, Bradley, Cecilia, Russ
- Olark: Matt, Ben, Zach
- David McGee‘s crew: Alex, Kennon, Brad
- Henry’s friends and the Chevy Roadtrip Champions from Detroit: Hajj, Brandon
- Student Startupers: Brandon, Ellen
- RazorFish: Steve
- MobileXers: Charles, Adam, Jon M
- Kentuckians: Randall, Will, Luke, Brian, David, Drew, Jon C (now in Seattle)
- Time to relearn web development. I was so cool writing HTML back in 1996, but the world has come a long way. Some UI/UX design insight will help for touch screen apps, too.
- Crowdsourcing some answers for this one: What is more valuable: go through a seed combinator program (get paid, network, create) or MBA (pay them, network, learn)?
- Creativity WILL drive the future. I want to be at the wheel, not just along for the ride.
- HUGE opportunity to bridge the Digital Divide (see above). It will take simplicity on the far side of complexity.
See you at SXSW 2010!