The Future of the Future

Time’s Harry McCracken does a worthy compilation of Futuristic prediction videos. He goes beyond the usual tittering by including both Future Past and Future Current and calling out the overall pointlessness of the exercise. As he says, imagining is not imagineering in the Disney sense and these dreams are rhetorical to the progress of engineering as a whole. The admen aren’t really aware of  the back end; they’re just another noisy user group. With a budget.

Oddly he includes the British Post Office in ‘Corporate America’. I smell a subeditor.

He’s shy to analyse the latest videos in the collection – the dreams of the late 2000’s are ‘too soon to predict’. Hell, I’ll predict them – that’s my job. I’m mainly looking at Microsoft’s 2009 opus Productivity Future Vision:

PIPES: all these videos are obsessed with pipes (or what Brazil called ducts). Whether it’s railroads, highways or datastreams, the visionaries can’t get over moving stuff from place to place, which is just a sublimation of their childish vroom vroom. This goes with centrally controlled data, the cloud and all that push to have everything locked up in a safe to which you can hire access. Local storage is smelly right now. It’ll take a few oops events to change that view back to having a library at home. Like your own garden (which is currently fashionable).

CLEANLINESS AND ORDER: Even the goddamn coffee cup has an allocated space on the virtual office desk of the future. Walls are clean of fingerprints. All the children have clean hand inspection every 30 minutes and jam sandwiches are verboten. No chair has a coat thrown over it. Every future office looks like an ad agency (e.g. Google circa 2009). The future is always off-white with tasteful splashes of colour – a world that looks like a magazine layout.

Everywhere I have worked has been a chaos of shit everywhere and where the hell is my pen. I am a mess and yet I am in the main efficient. My data is all over the place despite every attempt to corral it, and heaven help any algorithm that thinks it’s going to ‘smart folder’ anything.

Part of ‘the future’ is hiding unpleasant things. Amazon delivers neat clean little packages to your door so you don’t have to see the wait staff or have any sympathy for their situation. An interface is a way to hide unwanted information. Like other people’s bodies.

WEALTH: Good for those Indian kids in the video, the ones teaching American children how to write funny. They are obviously not the 58% under 5 years old who are stunted by malnutrition. Here’s a nice infographic that could be really cool to put up on the virtual classroom wall. The wealthy American and Indian kids can discuss it by drawing animated poor people chasing food scraps.

I like the house that the American guy owns, maybe it’ll become unoccupied by foreclosure – it would make a good squat. But really the point is that shovelling graphical information around in circles is not the same as actually making things which is what I thought was ‘productivity’. No one seems to make anything in utopia; they just graph what the Morlocks are doing in some remote part of China and wonder at their increasing irrelevance. Twit all you like, it’s not actually creating a damn thing and you are going down the toilet.

AGE: People are getting older, and they can’t work out the bar at the top of Microsoft Office let alone all the cyberpunk that the ad people are hurling onto every surface. My direct experience with trying to help the aged in using technology was a humbling one, and I expect that humbling to be the dominant feature of the coming years. Only when the people making the ads are themselves arthritic will they stop with all this pinching and flicking and diddling all over bits of glass. The elderly will not be using tablets, and you are going to be elderly.

LOGISTICS: Did you like the bit where the Chinese guy catches a plane and there’s no queue? (I mean there’s no one in the damn airport at all, which is back to the whole paleofuture fetish about hiding other human bodies which are utterly distasteful). There’s no one on the plane? So how the hell does Boeing manage to keep flying when no one is on their damn plane and fuel prices just keep rising and rising? Maybe we could push some graphs around a piece of glass and work that out.

(Oh yeah I should mention the teacher at the beginning flying first class and working out her curriculum on the plane. Can I have that job please? Sure would be sweet to just arrange stuff and make it happen without being on the ground to physically make sure that it’s going right.)

ACTUAL REAL WORLD TESTING: We recently had an upgrade at our main teaching hall. To operate the lights and sound you use an iPad fitted into the lectern. So to turn down the lights you push the button on the pad, swipe to open the application, touch the interface to start it, touch the tab to switch to lights and then touch one of about 5 lighting levels to set the mood. That sure beats turning a knob. I mean if you had a knob that would mean you could instantly set the lighting level to a near infinite number of levels. With the iPad, you get to see the logo of the university each time, and that my friends is the future.

My executive take on this is that to create our optimal future as shown in this genre of video we should immediately tear down anything old and start genocide of the poor, elderly, and children that have dirty hands. You might find that sentence distasteful, but why didn’t you find the video version of it distasteful?