Da Future, d’Art, duh past.

In a #CES week, the main news likes to flirt with “THE FUTURE!” Right? Which to me, as someone who’s never attended the highpoint of the global tech event calendar, tends to look like more drones, more bulky VR headsets, more talk of AR, a few more swanky concept EVs, and more obligatory uncanny robots. Not yet following us around the house as full voice assistants – they still have to live in desk bins. Oh, and there are always more massive TVs and broadcast resolutions. But, y’know, it’s fun – it’s a tech conference. I imagine. And hopefully still to a Daft Punk soundtrack. And with great WIFI. Unlike mine at home.


I’m sure I should go next year and attempt to get under its latex skin. Hear the actual conversations between surviving humans. To see what story they are each personally, actually, designing and working within. What is the historic flow they feel they are surfing or attempting to divert? Because there’s the real interest, I’d say – where are these potential products pointing us? Anywhere at all new?

Is anything outside the box there? I mean, do report back if you’re there, I’d like to know personal impressions. Because I suspect most things there are hoping to be plastic-wrapped into boxes.

Such incremental evolutions of daily technological assistance to augment our current daily living patterns aren’t Da Future, as bite-sized by Sky News or the Beeb. We know this. You know this. They’re gadgets to magpie us into wishlisting on Amazon, here and now, and potential tools for marketeers to reach us ever more efficiently. Which I know all of us humans are enjoying ever more and more still.

It must be a good place to go to understand what’s possible in the tech space, and to divine what will soon be possible. Ways to deliver. Something. But… I dunno. If we can look forward at all with CES, does your heart race at The Drum’s Three trends for marketers to watch for? No1: New ways to shop. No2: Screens in new places. No3: Increasingly influence of software.

Oh dear. I mean, I know it’s business – and you could say that it’s ad folk and marketers that really divine the ultimate business purpose of everything on show at CES2018. But isn’t the business of the future meant to be about new ways of seeing? New connections – making real innovation. Actual new ways of doing things. And this comes out of writing new stories of, y’know, who we are? Who we want to be.

Do we want to be more easily reachable shoppers? Consumers. Disposers. Be kinda nice to see big picture stuff. Storytelling stuff. Visions of the actual future leading to technology that can help us actually shape the future, not just ride it. Consume it. Tech could really be more like art – challenging us to see the world differently. Responding to a perspective more emotional, more understanding of human heritage, more interogatory to the stories in play today.

What do tech developers have to say about where we’ve come from as humans? Because, as technology brings us together, leaving fewer and fewer places for all of us to hide, threadbaring our comfortable prejudices and globalising our transacting, the outcomes appear to be anything but neatly algorithmic.

I think we are many of us facing the future by instinctively looking backwards. Duh. But basically asking: Who am I? What is this story I thought I was part of? You might not think most of us are so esoteric – but it’s only esoteric flouncers like me that idely point it out, most of us are doing it instinctively. Our massive political upheavals come not from us as consumers but from us as people – wanting to know we’ll be okay. Recognised. Not by faceprint – by finding family. Somewhere. As everything around us shapes into something else that doesn’t yet feel like a shared heritage… But here’s a drone. Amazon’ll find you.

Changeist founder Scott Smith’s excellent IAM talk from 2016 brings up the idea of The Future being too much about a cosmetic culture and not enough about a grounding in true futurism’s interrogation of analysis. That while more and more culture at the moment surfs the idea of futury things, and more unqualified fatheads like me are joining in the conversation pontificatingly, it can all just be noisy timewasting very much in the mode of our age – empty, untested opinion, filling our creative time to feel like we’re part of something, while robbing us of true agency: Responding to the need to engage with the true connected challenges of our age with real analysing, building and testing.

What I’d add to his heartfelt and supremely qualified view of this is that futurists themselves may need to come down from the mountain and start talking more common tongue. Telling more engaging stories. If futurists’ great qualification – so needed in an era of blah reckonings – makes them like engineers, scientists, surgeons airline pilots, that subsequent perceived untouchability elevates them to a priesthood. Not at all unlike economists.

And we don’t need holy intercessors now. We don’t even need saviours – otherworldly swooping superheroes. This is the age of growing up – of ownership and engagement. Of collective agency. Of writing new stories of us ourselves. The society-saving flip from trashy algorithmic eddies of noise and narcisistic influence to connected responsibility – inspired by the recognition of not just the fearsome imperatives of now but the frankly exciting opportunities. Opportinities glimpsed by the re-cognition of the connectedness of everything around us. The sort of recognition that inspires real, lives-changing innovation.

VR can be a great way to tell stories. It’s not the story. Robots will at least partly be great fun round the house, if we’re not charging towards accidentally making an enslaved sentient underclass one day. ..No, I know you will be a benevolent master. Screens in more places gives us more touch points into each other’s lives and the great revolution of the unfolding digital human planet network. They are not the story. They’re not the interesting bit.

What stories will we put through these portals? Write with these devices? Not just neat, hoping-to-make-emotional-connections storytelling like a 100th generation John Lewis ad. The story of us in the middle of all that’s happening to us. Is anyone asking this much? Because if not, I’d argue the irony of a conference like CES is that it’s very far from thinking outside the box – if “it’s just a technology conference” then it’s still very firmly in its box. Neatly compartmentalised away. While all the human boxes of the 21st century are opening.

As a regular visitor, a part of the CES family, or a first timer, what are you hoping to see from it? Do share back with those of us who haven’t yet glimpsed.

I’d still just like my WIFI to work properly. I’m only human, after all.

As part of my own unfolding explorations of the human-planet future, one particular project had me notice the role heritage plays in our imaginations – looking backards to look forwards. Something I shared the beginnings of in a couple of rather differently formatted talks in the autumn. Just after I’d been on a little pilgrimage of my own.

Read and watch Taking a leap of hope on the Momo Lingo pages >

2 thoughts on “Da Future, d’Art, duh past.

  1. For you my cosmic spaceship-matey x

    “I’m only human, after all” Well my sci-fi, sky high buddy “es-tu?” “serons-nous” and indeed will: “should-a, would-a, could-a!” be the resounding Echo (or Dot!) of this AI generation (and that includes an AI generation, if you see the double abbreviation reference!).
    Having spent the New Year with ‘Alexa’ and experienced the incredible ability to absorb a ‘voice activated’ existence, my sociological/psychological/educational/behaviouristal (damn the English language!!!!) self has been challenged indeed.
    In the last couple years I have introduced a 20 minute rule of resisting ‘searching’ for the answer if I (or any of my personal company) KNOW the answer – you know the thang:
    “Oh what else was she in?”
    “He was in thingy with doobrie wotsit wasn’t he?!”
    Having seen and experienced the slow and frustrating demise of my dear old Pa at the ripe old age of 92, memory loss and cranial activity have been on my mind (ha!) for a while now. Dad did the Sunday Express crossword every week and his well fingered Encyclopedia’s have pride of place on the bookshelf at me Mum’s, so what would he make of it all:
    “Alexa, what would me Dad have thought of all this AI stuff ?”
    “I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer to that question”
    Oh so you can:
    “Alexa Lounge 20%” turn the Echo lightbulbs down. You can even
    “Alexa – bedroom purple” (know what Im saying!!!!!)
    “Alexa, play {Insert song title} by {artist} (often not the other way round?)
    You know the square root of 564, but…………. you don’t know it if I get too detailed or too radical????
    At least you don’t ply me with adverts
    “Skip Ad Alexa”
    “only after 5 seconds”
    The implications of staying on the couch all afternoon until a teasmade-bot is developed, that won’t spill the tea if the cat runs towards it or the Axminster rug gets in the way, just doesn’t bear thinking about.
    And what if I have a degree of paranoia and start getting very anxious of having someone else in the flat……………..but wait……………
    Imagine my dear old Mum faced with a day on her own (it doesn’t happen often honest!) waking up (no cat or dog or goldfish in the house!) and being able to say
    “Good morning Alexa”
    “Alexa What’s the weather today?”
    “Alexa What’s the news?”
    “Alexa play me Charles Aznavour singing ‘She’ ” “I’m sorry, I don’t know that song”
    “Alexa play me ‘She’ by Charles Aznavour”
    (Holds nose and wobbles throat to sing “She may be the one that I adore!”)

    So, the challenge is to balance the application-the implication and the demands of need and want (if I need to get off my butt and find out, do that thang, then I have to do it! I have to at least ‘try’ and remember not have a default reflex that says “Alexa!” or “Google it” “Yahoo!” etc. or surely we will all become “Siri-idiots!” as (was it Benny Hill) used to say.

    The coming generations will no more be able to comprehend going to the Library and ordering a book, waiting upto 6 weeks to research a specific point for a project (ooh I used to love a good project!) than carrying your portable record player round to your friends and sharing this new Rock n Roll chappie with the kiss curl Bill Haley (an equally revolutionary development in popular music history).
    “Alexa, play Momotempo “All that Love Could Be”
    “I’m sorry, I don’t know that song”
    “Alexa, play “All that Love Could Be by Momotempo”
    “You silly sausage”

    1. A richly poetic personal thought, my cosmic matey, indeed. Thankyou. Yes, the future generations are going to have to keep shaking down the tech to find their humanity, put simply. We are having to. Tech always finds its level, but do we always find ours? It can help us reach new heights but only sustainably when we learn where it must sit in the mix of our outlook. It’s my belief – almost trust – that we will find new chapters where technology is a more seamless tool to us enjoying our healthy selves. Human, yes, after all. But the poets will have to sing us there relentlessly. x

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