This is a continuation of my review of Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable (part 1 here). We will look at four more of his 12 continuous actions of technology for the next 30 years. We left off with screening, the idea that screens will be everywhere, making it possible to access the constant flow of information.
Being able to access things, whether it’s information, physical products, money, etc is something that will be increasingly important and increasingly possible. Kelly begins with this quote from a 2015 TechCrunch article:
Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening. (p. 109)
Kelly’s main assertion, one that the article hits on, is that access and interface are more important than the physical product. I can support this anecdotally with my own experience. I didn’t own a car for most of my 3 years in Honolulu, preferring to rely on the bus, the university shuttle, and Lfyt/Uber. It was only when I moved to a place that was 1700 feet up a mountain on a private road, and over 2 miles walk to the nearest bus stop, that I finally gave in and owned a car again.
If I end up back in Washington DC, a car is almost certainly out of the equation. Between the above options, the addition of a great bike share program and infrastructure on the roads, and options like Zip Car for very short term rental, there’s no reason to own a car unless you really want one. My travel has only involved 1 hotel stay in recent years, as I prefer Airbnb, and the hotel was paid for by UNLV when they flew me to Vegas for a job interview. Ownership my soon be a relic.
Digital technology accelerates dematerialization by hastening the migration from products to services. (p. 111)
I predict that by 2025 the bandwidth to a high-end driverless car will exceed the bandwidth into your home. (p. 112)
One reason so much money is flowing into the service frontier is that there are so many more ways to be a service than to be a product. (p. 115)
He goes on to show the ways that Uber spinoffs for picking up your kids, bidding platforms where you say how much you’ll pay for the ride and driver’s have the option to accept, and others are sprouting up as service replaces product due to how much access we already have.
The flow of information, and our access to it, are leading to greater decentralization and dematerialization by the moment. Most new services work across platforms, cloud storage and usage continues to increase, and the stability of these sources we access is amazing (Google Cloud was down for 14 minutes in 2014 – p. 128).
Kelly further argues that as we own less stuff, the access is what matters most. Our devices aren’t just tools anymore, they’re becoming part of us.
Being able to access on screens nearly everywhere leads to sharing.
The number of personal photos posted on Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, and other sites is an astronomical 1.8 billion per day. (p. 139)
This section opens with the idea that our devices are leading to a socialism that expresses itself in four ways:
We are sharing information. We’re cooperating to do so. We’re producing and increasing amount of collaborative work. We’re working as a collective, whether it’s intentional or not. The increased flow of information and access to it via screens everywhere should lead to a continued increase in sharing.
Instead of viewing this as a bad thing Kelly, who was a self described libertarian in the past, says this:
The future is a hybrid that takes cues from both Wikipedia and the moderate socialism of, say, Sweden. (p. 144)
His argument is that this future system works much more from the bottom up instead of the top down like a North Korea or the old USSR. Kelly even goes so far to say that most movements are best when they start from the bottom up and only end up with minimal hierarchy, and that this socialized sharing is an example of that.
There’s already evidence of it creeping into other areas of life. One of the top trends for charity work in recent years is micro loans, usually very small amounts given to people in poor areas to purchase an item or two and launch a local business. It’s a peer-to-peer model built on sharing and intended to bypass corruption. I’ve given money this way to a few organizations and Kelly nails it right on the head when he says it’s safer to lend to a person than a government in many of these situations (p. 159).
Here are a few more of his quotes from that page:
Loan a poor woman $95 to buy supplies to launch a street food cart and the benefits of her stable income would ripple up through her children, the local economy, and quickly build a base for more complex startups.
So you, sitting at Starbucks, could now lend $120 to a specific individual Bolivian woman who plans to buy wool to start a weaving business.
Since Kiva’s launch in 2005, over 2 million people have lent more than $725 million in microfinance loans via its sharing platform. The payback rate is about 99 percent.
With so much access and so many things that can be shared, how do you handle it all? By filtering, that’s how.
I use Facebook because it seems like a necessary evil. I wish more people had migrated to Google+ as it puts much more control in user’s hands. Circles were a brilliant idea, they were just too late to the game and people are stunningly lazy.
I’m a huge fan of filtering. I would guess 75% of my “friends” on Facebook are unfollowed. I’ve gotten more active on Twitter by using Tweetdeck and by only having my specific lists visible. Currently I have 5 lists and that may get fractured even more over time. To put it frankly, I don’t care what most people are saying most of the time.
Every 12 months we produce 8 million new songs, 2 million new books, 16,000 new films, 30 billion blog posts, 182 billion tweets, 400,000 new products. (p. 165)
Society has always used filters, and Kelly identifies 8 of them before making his argument for what the new ones may look like in the next 30 years:
- Cultural Environment
Examples of filters being used now are Amazon and Netflix recommendations. LinkedIn says that more than 50% of their new connections are from follower recommendations.
In fact, so many people find these filtered recommendations useful that these kinds of ‘more like this’ offers are responsible for a third of Amazon sales. (p. 169)
They are so valuable to Netflix that it has 300 people working on its recommendations system, with a budget of $150 million. (p. 169)
Looking at crowdsourcing, Kelly suggests the professional is going to be more the person who best filters information than produces it. He believes that the filtering of the flow we access via our screens will both lead to more collaborative work and more distinct individuals (p. 191).
Once you access what is shared and filter it, what do you do next? You remix it.
One fanfic archive lists 1.5 million fan-created works to date. (p. 194)
In his 12 Rules of the New Renaissance, Jeff Goins’ second rule strengthens this position:
The Starving Artist strives to be original.
The Thriving Artist steals from his influences.
Kelly argues that the top of the food chain will not be the source of the next hits in society. He points out that North America produces 1200 hours of feature films each year, and that total is a rounding error compared to how much other video is produced.
He suggests that the tiger as king of the jungle is a myth, and so is Hollywood. The real king of the jungle is the grasshopper. The next big hits will come from the grasshoppers, as well as the future of moving pictures. One only needs to see the rising tide of hit movies and books coming from independent sources to see the trend already beginning.
When it comes to remixing, the writing world has been ahead of the curve for a while:
After all, this is how authors work. We dip into a finite database of established words, called a dictionary, and reassemble these found words into articles, novels, and poems that no one has ever seen before. The joy is recombining them. Indeed, it is a rare author who is forced to invent new words. (p. 200)
Kelly supplies further support for this idea by showing that quotation marks were invented in the 13th century, footnotes in the 12th century, and bibliographic citations in the 13th century. He envisions hyperlinks as the footnote and citation equivalent for remixed and shared video in the near future.
This brings us back to the idea of ownership. If sharing had dented the idea of owning property, what does constant access and remixing do to ownership of intellectual property?
If Jefferson gave you his house at Monticello, you’d have his house and he wouldn’t. But if he gave you an idea, you’d have the idea and he’d still have the idea. (p. 208)
In all of this, remixing becomes a primary means of interacting.
(continued in part 3, next week)