Occasionally, new technology changes lives. But mostly it doesn’t. I’m a greybeard and (like most people I think) the number of qualitative tech-driven shifts in my life fits on the fingers on one hand. How about you?
Ground rules · Let’s keep it to this century. Which assumes the Internet, email, and some flavor of real-time chat; they’re part of civilization’s background radiation, these days. Even so, my list of changes will extend further back than most people’s.
I’m pretty mainstream in most respects, but to the extent I’m not, my list might be unrepresentative. So: My life is not automobile-centric, I almost never watch movies, and I’m a bookworm; I think that about covers it.
What happened was · I was reading John Gruber on the iPhones 6; in wrapping up, he said “If there’s a certain flatness to this review, a lack of enthusiasm, it’s not intentional.” No, but it’s inevitable; These are obviously great products and they’ll sell in tens of millions, but they’ll be bought overwhelmingly by those already on the mobile Net, and thus they really won’t change any lives.
Neither will wearables.
So I started scribbling a lists of things that did, and was shocked how short it was.
1. Mobile Net · This became inevitable with the iPhone launch in 2007. Thus: In motion, I don’t need to leave a question hanging or a message unanswered. And I don’t have to be bored on public transit (so I take it more often; screw city driving). And I don’t have to be anywhere in particular to work, or to create.
2. Maps · Wherever I am, I can find my way to anywhere else, fearlessly. If it’s not obvious to you that humans are essentially nomadic, go read Chatwin’s The Songlines.
But it’s not controversial to say that travel is an essential human activity, fear of getting lost one of the deepest primal horrors, and Internet maps are life-changers, big-time.
3. Short-form level-field publishing · To tell the world something important, you don’t need an editor or a publisher or a printer or a bookstore or a newsstand or a marketing group.
Also, you can use the right number of words; there’s no pressure to fill a book, or to cut down to a column-inches budget. The potential for anyone, anywhere, to write something that touches millions of lives still feels like pure magic to me. My life has been wrenched in new directions by things I’ve read (and written) that never would have seen the light if day until, say, 2005.
4. The Net’s book ecosystem · Amazon and its competitors (can we have more please?) combine with ubiquitous book-size screens to remove friction from bookworkms’ lives. The business models still need work, but going back to those dead trees that you have to drive to get, and then crowd you out of your house — unthinkable!
[Weirdly, The Songlines doesn’t seem to be available electronically.]
Too soon to tell · Since late 2012, my life has been changed, more than any other single factor, by Ingress. I get way more exercise and my social circle has expanded; neither of those are small things. People like to play games and they like to go outside; and they get old, so it’s good if some outside games don’t require whacking and jumping and blocking and tackling.
I’m not saying Ingress itself is the life-changer; just the notion of an imagination-based game grown-ups can play out in the real world.
New phones, yawn · When I got out of the necessarily-obsessive Android group at Google, I suddenly realized that nothing I’d been working on there had the potential to be a life-changer. Frankly, the highest-impact product Google has shipped in the last couple of years may be ChromeCast; and that’s just TV.
How about you? · I’m probably missing something obvious.