Most monsters are metaphors. What monster are we currently worried about and what is the metaphor?
Late last year I was involved in the creation of a series of scenarios for Atlantic Lottery Corporation in Canada looking at the future of gaming out to 2030. The scenarios were:
This is a world with cultures in collision where there is a tug of war between governments who want to restrict and enforce rules around Lottery and Gaming and a tech-savvy, networked and socially connected citizenry who can easily circumvent those rules. Inconsistency in enforcement defines how people see things work in this world.
This is a world of science fiction – a world of intuitive machines, augmented reality, synthetic biology, wearables, sensory implants, genetic augmentation, self-tracking, predictive analytics and fully immersive virtual realities, where real time big data drives a quantum computing based gaming ecosystem, filled with disruptive alliances.
In this world, fear of intrusion and data privacy lead to increasing encryption, slower device performance and ultimately digital simplification where users fail to adopt technology innovations. Social activism is strong and at the extremes, morphs into radicalized opposition that undermines the security and integrity of technology platforms and ultimately, the industry itself.
In this world, fiscal realities force governments to examine how they work and look at alternatives to becoming more efficient, more competitive and affordable. In this world we see product, association and service collaborations in order to increase operating efficiencies.
Download the Scenario Book here
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.” – Carl Sagan.
Spotted in the Rijksmuseum. Chainmail somewhere between 1400 and 1500. Polo shirt circa 2013-2014. Also liked the overweight kid and the couple having a chat over a drink in their backyard circa 1629-1683 (looks like suburbia 1950-2014).
I’ve got the go-ahead for a new book, which is a good thing, but every time I write something it happens. This is not supposed to happen.
The latest example is a story today in the newspaper about Personalised Health and Care 2020, which suggests that family doctors should prescribe apps to patients in the future. My chapter on health was entitled “Your doctor is an app.”
This situation slightly reminds me of William Gibson, the science fiction writer, who several years ago allegedly announced that he was no longer writing about the future because the present was becoming quite weird enough.
“Without a sense of how weird the present is — how potentially weird the present is — it became impossible for me to judge how much weirder I should try to make an imagined future”
So what to do? One solution might be to pitch things much further into the future, but this runs the risk of sounding like a science fiction writer, which I am clearly not. When people ask me to talk about the future they usually mean a chewable, understandable future that is somewhat trend-based and logical. If you go too far out people complain that it’s either too speculative (that’s the whole point!) or not something that is practically applicable (why does it have to be?).
Perhaps the answer is to move backwards. To use a mirror rather than a crystal ball – the future an excuse to discuss what we are doing right now, which is possibly back to the central purpose of science-fiction.
BTW, exchange on the train yesterday: A somewhat grubby man with one arm got on-board and asked, nicely, for some money. Everyone on the train looked downwards to avoid eye contact. I gave him about five quid and the man thanked me and shuffled off. The man seated opposite to me then said: “He’ll probably just spend it on drugs” to which my response was: “Well that’s more or less what I spend it on.”
(Children, if you are reading this, this was a far too obscure reference to alcohol, coffee and perhaps legal painkillers. I am not, yet, a crack addict).
Another day, another trends report and another info-graphic. Here’s a visualisation that references the WTM 2014 travel trends report. Worth a quick look alongside my own future of travel and holidays report.
BTW, I noticed in the newspaper today that someone has invented (so they say) swimmers (sorry, a swim suit) that changes colour when you’ve has enough sun. Similar to my idea about sun cream that did the same thing (which our nightmare client thought was a ridiculous idea).
One thing I’ve done quite well with over the last few decades is old stuff (I know, I’m supposed to be future orientated, but I just can’t help myself). Old cars have always been a passion, so I’ve been watching prices climb with a mixture of astonishment and delight. It’s only a bubble when it bursts, as they say, but I’m inclined to think that with the exception of the top end we might be seeing a major adjustment shortly. Not everyone agrees.
According to Max Girado, MD of RM Auctions Europe: “It is not a bubble as such. I think some cars will stop increasing in value, but the market won’t come crashing down.” Maybe Max is right. But it’s crashed before and I strongly suspect that it will again. The only real question is when?
This is just scary. Me at 5am talking to the CSIRO in Australia. The office temperature was zero degrees and I’m wearing PJ’s and welling boots down under.
I’d like to talk about talking.
About six years ago I was in a restaurant at Bondi Beach. Just as the menus arrived so did a couple in their twenties. They were seated at the window table opposite and after about fifteen minutes the man brought out a box containing a ring and proposed. There were some tears, some kissing and some conversation, which went on for maybe two minutes.
Then there was a rather awkward silence and each reached for their mobile phone. The next hour or so, until the bill arrived, was spent frantically texting, telling friends and family the happy news, I presume.
I think we can excuse this couple, up to a point, but what really concerns me is the increasing numbers of people – husbands and wives, couples, friends and rooms full of strangers that use mobiles to hide from each other or prevent communication. You can see this everywhere – in cafes, on buses, at the beach, at conferences – and once you see it it’s very hard to stop seeing it.
It’s as though talking to someone, even someone we know very well, has become too difficult without digital filters or perhaps it’s that information about what’s happening elsewhere has created in us a fear of missing out, which means we are never fully present anywhere or with anyone.
In short, we are becoming ill at ease in the physical presence of other human beings and when we do communicate face to face with other people it is only with the tacit acknowledgement that our mobiles are left switched on and that any conversation may be interrupted at any moment.
This is fine on one level, but surely what we are saying here is that any device, or more specifically any information conveyed on that device, is more important than the person we are physically with, which can make us rather insecure.
In other words, while we believe that mobile devices facilitate connection, in reality they are doing the opposite. Modern communications are destroying meaningful communication. They are also isolating us from each other and the world at large. On trains and buses we no longer look out of the windows, but look down at our knees. Prams, which interestingly look outwards nowadays from the child’s perspective, are pushed by parents connected not with their child, who is right there in front of them, but with other people who are not.
I’m sure we are all familiar with the number of people worldwide that now own mobile devices. In the UK, almost 10% of five year olds now own a mobile phone. By age ten it’s 75%. But the word ‘phone’ is rather misleading.
Using a phone to speak to someone is becoming the exception. Globally, communicating via voice is falling through the floor, while communicating via data (text and pictures essentially) is going through the roof. Text became popular because it was cheap, but we soon worked out that text-based communication offered a greater level of control too.
We can choose when to respond to a text message or to totally ignore it.
Does this matter? I think that it does on some levels, because with text it’s very difficult to convey tone and even if you do pick up a phone to talk, it’s impossible to pick up on body language. Using something like Skype or Facetime can improve the situation slightly, but even here we can lose important elements of communication due to poor visual representation. According to some commentators, once we step away from physical face-to-face communication, we can lose as much as 90% of the clues that reveal the unspoken intentions or feelings of the other person.
So yes, we are communicating more than ever before, which is a good thing, but I wonder how much of substance is being said and, critically, how much is really being listened to or understood.
Left unchecked, this situation may result in a growth of major misunderstandings and mistakes. At the extreme, it might mean we all become increasingly fragile, nervous and insecure, partly because large parts of our identities will have been created externally by the affirmation and validation of others and will be subject to the whims of the weak ties found on our online networks.
I share therefore I am. Nobody has ‘liked’ my photographs, therefore I do not exist.
I think there are essentially three broad themes here.
The first, as I’ve said, has to do with how communicating by text in various forms is different to communicating face to face and may be resulting in a decline of empathy, an increase in fragility and the growth of misunderstanding.
Don’t get me wrong. I text. I email. I Skype. All of these technologies are very useful, but in my view, all should only be used to enhance, not replace, face to face communication and relationships.
The second theme has to do with interruption. We have somehow become uncomfortable with ourselves and others to the point where we can never be alone long enough to dig deep into our souls due to various flashes, vibrations, beeps, pings and rings.
Why might this be so? How can it be that a brief two-line text can be more alluring than the person seated opposite in a fancy restaurant in Bondi, the one with whom you plan to share the rest of your life?
I think the answer has to do with our Stone Age brains.
When we receive messages or mail someone is thinking about us. We feel important, wanted or at least feel as though we exist.We also feel good about ourselves because each tiny communication is accompanied by an attachment in the form of a shot of dopamine, which as you probably know, is a pleasure chemical released by the brain to reward certain kinds of behaviour. And guess what? The dopamine system is most powerfully stimulated when the information coming in is a bit of a tease, modest enough to intrigue, but not large enough to satisfy.
Also, when we receive information through our mobile devices it’s essentially unpredictable, which is again alluring. If we knew the character of a tweet or text in advance, it obviously wouldn’t be interesting. It’s as though every incoming update or message is the sequel to the best TV series we’ve ever seen and we still don’t know how it ends. Hardly surprising, in this context, that a company built on 140 characters or less can be worth $27 billion.
The third theme, and it’s intimately connected with the first two, is thinking.
Clearly we are becoming very good at finding things very fast. To have the world’s information at our fingertips is a wonderful thing. It’s become easier to share things, especially ideas and information. I’m excited about this. The prospects of increasing collaboration, not only in science, but in politics, media and just about everything else is a wonderful development.
But my worry is deep thinking.
Screens, as I’ve said, are great for finding, filtering and evolving things, but I think the price we are paying for this is the erosion of sustained, focused, contextual and reflective thought. In other words, deep thinking.
Part of the problem here is simply finding enough quiet time to really think. Another is finding inputs that are original. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of information around and some is original. But because we are in a constant rush, we end up doing what’s most convenient, which is looking in the same place, which is page one of Google results.
Using an internet search to look up the telephone number of Icebergs restaurant in Bondi is absolutely fine, but if we are trying to increase the sum of all human knowledge then surely we shouldn’t all be looking in the same place. If it’s that easy, don’t do it.