The Future is Now: the Recession and the Steep Upward Slope

Brenda Cooper @ 17-11-2010

It’s a recession.  The housing market is tough, the job market is worse, and the country is so sharply divided we’ll be lucky if anything useful happens in Washington D.C. in the next two years.  Whole economies are backpedaling into austerity programs.  This does not feel like a ride up the steep right-hand curve of the emerging technological singularity.  But I think that’s where we are – in that place of so much change we can barely keep up, and in a time when many people are falling so far behind that they will never catch up.

Case one:  Social media. We have a brand new way to communicate that “everybody’s using”  but they aren’t.  Not really.  My mother wouldn’t know a tweet if it bit her. But I have people all over the world that I follow and that follow me, and thus a whole network of smart people I can learn from, ask questions of, and peek into the lives of.  I have hundreds of Facebook friends, and there isn’t a complete union of the two sets.  And those tools not only didn’t really exist a few years ago, but I can’t imagine not having them.   Then there’s the household fourteen-year-old who does so many things so fast on her computers that I can’t keep up, even though I’m a tech professional.

Case two:  The app world. I was sitting quietly with my iPad the other day and a total stranger came up and started chatting about his plan to develop an app to aggregate all my data and rule my world.   Great idea.  I already have a few, thank you.  I can find a piece of software to help me with almost anything I want to do.  Any fact-based question can be answered in moments, and a lot of fuzzier questions can be answered or researched just as fast.

Case three:  User interfaces. Start with mobility. The iPhone still rules them all, but the spirited conversation over the cube walls at work today was iPhone or Driod or Windows Phone 7 to replace the old Blackberries.   All with whole ecosystems of apps and capabilities that seem to have sprung up with a spring night’s rainfall and a day of sunshine.  We can work anytime from anywhere.  Move to the iPad.  The “new” tablet form factor and UI are replacing the old so fast I’m afraid to blink.  Ebooks and a total change in distribution are turning publishing on its ears.  Same for music.

Case four:  Speed of change. Announcements just this week:  Facebook email;  The Beatles on Apple.  Last month?  The Windows Phone 7; games with no wires and no controllers in your hands; interacting with the air to play.

Case five:  Hellacious instability. If it’s not Jihad it’s big brother at airports.  Climate change refugees.  Satellite maps used to tell the Sudanese government the world is watching villages in Darfur.   Fiscal markets in whirlwinds of change.  Big demographic shifts as the developed world ages and the developing world emerges.  Fast changes in how and where we get our energy (but may not fast enough to meet voracious growing demand).  Digital content being created far faster than we’re making ways to store and index it.  Genetic engineering.

I was going through old photos just before I wrote this.  There was a time in my life when I didn’t have a cell phone in my pocket and an iPad in my purse.  When if I was on a hike, no one could reach me, and I could reach no one.  It wasn’t very long ago.  So here’s what I think: we’re there.  Heading up the steep slope so fast it’s almost an elevator ride.  Hanging on by being plugged in every day.   Or is this just the illusion of an adult woman for whom time changes perspective?  What do you think?

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Brenda Cooper’s latest science fiction novel, Wings of Creation, is out now from Tor Books. For more information, see her website!

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3 Responses to “The Future is Now: the Recession and the Steep Upward Slope”

  1. Matt Buchman says:

    For years I was bleeding edge. 1992 I traveled with a Novell-capable laptop and a cell phone good in 3 cities (which meant I had 3 phone numbers with 3 services and had to do a major # forwarding reset every time I got on a plane which was 3-4 times/wk). Then I dropped out for 18 months and went around the world on a bicycle. While I was traveling, a friend got angry with me that I wasn’t doing e-mail (and he wasn’t talking CompuServe which confused me immensely)?!? When I returned, the first professional meeting I attended was about HTML coding on the Internet?!?! (I hadn’t heard of either one.) Getting back on the edge was brutal. By 2002, after 15 years pushing forward, I let go and became a user. I hung up my SQL and my server config and my 100M backbone and became a process manager. Today I sit and watch the race going by in awe. I now cherry-pick from mature technologies, and have my kid mentor me on them.

    For all that, do I feel left behind or frustrated? No! We are at a time that I have spent my whole career working towards, a time when the possibilities are opening wide before us. I can now perform research, as you noted, feed the elephant’s brain at an alarming and satisfying pace. It is still a matter of finding the information in the data, but the tools are progressing fantastically as well. Ideas I’ve never been and never could be exposed to are there for playing on TED, research on… I choose my level of comfort, as your mother chooses her, and revel in the new-found opportunities. Great post, you capture it well. I’ll be fascinated to sit on the sidelines and see how long your fingernails can stay dug in out there on that edge. GRIN!

  2. Brenda Cooper says:

    Thanks Matt,

    Excellent reply. One thought that crossed my mind this morning is that even though the household fourteen-year-old is way out on the edges of the net and texts in language we can barely parse, her concerns are same as mine when I was that age. Fitting in. Deciding what to become. She worries about global warming, but I worried about nuclear devastation. Same level worries. Both could still happen. But she also worried about being liked and her teachers and whether or not she has the right clothes.

    We change, and we don’t.

    It’s all fascinating.

  3. Kim says:

    I’m way behind: my cell phone only phones and takes photos. I let my spouse do the GPS and email on her phone. I’m waiting for it all to be easy. But I’ve never tried to keep up with fashion. Yes, I do Facebook — to keep up with what the teens are doing. They don’t talk to us, but they do say it on facebook….Weird.
    However, my spouse (and I) are inventing a new innovation in solar energy that you will be hearing about in a few years. We can’t be the only ones….
    I guess my point is that not everyone is in love with technology. Some of us just tolerate it.