What's the coolest new technology? You'd be surprised...
I know it's been awhile since I posted, but I've been busily playing with technology. Yeah, it's a decent excuse, all things considered. I sat in on a video conference recently that extolled the climbing stats and buzz around Twitter (I've been on there a while, though not terribly active). Did you know it's one of the fastest-growing social media sites out there? It's true, although I'm still struggling to find a good business case for it. Dang.
Then, read an article about how taking down one spam re-seller impacted the volume of messages that we all receive from our good friends in Nigeria (see Spam Drops After Internet Providers Disconnect a California Hosting Firm). That's good news, right? A decrease in spam means that my spam filter has less difficulty figuring out what to flag incorrectly (for the next few days, all messages sent to my home account will be flagged that way, to make it easier for me to find them in the deleted folder).
And now, a really interesting article by the fellow behind Second Life. Second Life is one of those social networking things that I've eschewed, mostly on the belief that it requires entirely too much interaction with people, and we both know what my thoughts are about people. Exactly. Don't like 'em all that much.
In spite of his credentials, I decided to give the guy a read. I like to know what the future will bring. I even shelled out on a book by a futurist (which is, let's face it, the world's coolest job: I predict the future based on what I see today! Send money now!) called The Extreme Future: The Top Trends That Will Reshape the World in the Next 20 Years. I don't recommend it, by the way. For a more entertaining read, though it's now dated, I recommend The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story, written about the guy behind Silicon Graphics and Netscape. Now there was a guy busily creating his own reality. Wonder what he's doing these days.
Anyway (my digressions now have spawned digressions), here's a guy who successfully innovated with technology that encouraged others to play along and come up with their own versions of reality. I was keen to discover what Philip Rosedale was going to have to say about the future of technology and the technology he was most bullish about going forward. I was more than a little surprised at his answer. Ready for it?
Yep, electricity. The technology that continues to be hair-raising even though it's no longer eyebrow-raising (I couldn't resist that one). Why is he looking at this blast from the past to open the door to newer and more interesting things? Because we're finally getting to what he calls a "tipping point" in decentralized electrical production - the cost of solar cells is finally moving into the affordable range, and as it continues to do so, he predicts it's going to democratize power generation and open the doors to innovation among the planet's poor, who have heretofore been denied the opportunity to pull up a virtual chair at the table.
It's an interesting and powerful idea, and one with more than a little merit. Consider this: historically, we've looked to the frontier, the hinterland, for ideas and creativity. As the heartland settles and establishes itself and veils itself in rules and hierarchies, creativity is perforce stifled. "That's not how we do things" becomes the cry. Instead, it's the guys on the fringe who are still free to push the envelope that come up with the interesting stuff. To counteract that schism between mainstream and fringe, the mainstream likes to swallow down the edgy little guys with the good ideas, absorbing them and making their radical ideas palatable to the masses. There are lots of examples of this throughout history - look at colonization (all of the really interesting stuff comes from the peasants in the colonial backwater who are quietly going about their business, growing tea and cotton and finding gold and silver and using homeopathics to heal themselves), look at business (if you build a better search engine, Microsoft will buy you), look at the politics of the fringe (those chicken littles in Greenpeace who foolishly believe that the sky is falling - can you say Silent Spring anyone?). The edge is interesting and eventually the center absorbs it and seeks a new edge.
So, the edge in this case is the silent masses who have not benefited from our electricity-based culture or technology. Rosedale posits that that will change and that "the developing world is nearing an opportunity to embrace decentralised power generation as a means to survive and thrive and ultimately to innovate."
Pretty cool, huh? Now, the cynic in me notes that the whole article lets this guy sound like a future-thinker and a dreamer without ever having to sit down and give away his plans for world domination in technology, but I guess that's his right. If I really knew what the future held, I'd probably play that information pretty close to the vest as well, rather than throw it out for the world to see.
The global talent pool is set to boom as incredible minds start to look at world problems through fresh eyes and start to envisage the ways in which technology can make a difference to their lives and their surroundings.
So, what's the coolest technology I've seen? Anything born from the right we should all have to innovate.
What does the future of the internet look like? It looks like a world map where even the furthest corners of the planet are able to get online because of the decentralisation of power generation.
What technology is getting me excited right now? Electricity.
We've come full circle but second time around is going to be even better.