Monday, 27 April 2009

How not to predict the future (or why Second Life is like video calling)

Yesterday afternoon, I was speaking on a panel at the National Digital Inclusion Conference. We'd been asked to talk about "what learning should look like in 2019, and how technology will have changed how we consume, create and collaborate to develop ideas, knowledge and skills."

That got me thinking about how bad we are predicting the future of technology - and I saw a parallel which I'd not noticed before.

My usual example of poor prediction is the mobile industry. Video calling was expected to be huge, but it turns out hardly anyone wanted it. Text messaging, on the other hand, was an unexpected success. The point is that the technology landscape is shaped not just by what we can do, but what we choose to do - and simpler, less impressive technologies may turn out to be vastly more powerful as social tools.

What struck me yesterday is that the video calling vs text messaging situation has played out all over again online in the last few years. Except that this time it wasn't video calling but virtual worlds - and it wasn't text messaging but Twitter. Again, people's demand for high-tech, highly immersive substitutes for face-to-face experience was massively exaggerated - while the real story turns out to be the social power of stripped down, simple bits of communication that weave in and out of our First Lives.

(Of course, the reason most of the recent media coverage of Twitter has been tripe is that the journalists responsible haven't used it for long enough to realise how much of its power lies in the face-to-face interactions and relationships it sparks - but that's a post for another day...)

1 comment:

happyseaurchin said...

absolutely right wrt technology

i believe predicting social innovations and their effect may be a little easier

at least
i am hoping so :)

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