May 1, 2011

Be What's Next

Every now and then, particularly on lazy Sunday afternoons, I stop to reflect on life.  Typically this reflection involves making a list of things that need to be done, or in many cases, reflecting on the list of honey-do’s I just got handed to me.  Today was an exceptionally lazy afternoon – it was cloudy, wet and cold outside, so playing outside was out of the question – so I got lots of thinking done.  Here’s what I came up with:

Historically, technology has moved up and to the right in spits and spurts.  Sometimes there are great advances, sometimes, simple ones.  I think back to college when I totally invented Facebook before that Zuckerberg kid, but couldn’t see past the confines of my university.  Or the notion of a tool that allowed people to communicate short messages between systems and other people – I called it Notify Everything – you call it Twitter.  Bitter?  Ha – a little, but what matters is that all ideas have a technical component and a timing component.  It occurs to me that many of the most significant advances up and to the right depended more heavily on timing than anything else.  I recall with fondness a simple little service back in early 2000 where you could log onto a website and post your location and folks that knew the address to your profile could see that your location and contact information changed.  I don’t recall the name of the site but it was yellow and black themed.  Obviously it didn’t last long – but you all know that service as Foursquare (or derivative) now.  Timing.

These days, it’s hard for me to keep up with the pace of change.  Up and to the right things go and I find myself still learning the previous version.  I think it is because I am getting older mostly, but I cannot discount that the pace does seem to be increasing.  So how is one to stay on top of their game and continue to iterate through ideas and disruptive technologies?  The way that I’ve done it previously is practice, practice, practice.  Back in college, I could grab a case of my favorite beverage, sit down in my apartment with some equally geeky friends and we’d disappear into the uber geekdom for days.  Class was a terrible inconvenience.  That might explain why it took so long to graduate.  Once one gets married and has two kids, however, those days get left behind.  Beating the crap out of servers has been replaced by picnics and spit up and diapers and baseball – and I’ll admit, I miss it much less than I thought I would.  But on days like Sunday afternoons, I stop and reflect on all that has changed in technology in the previous ten years or so and am awe inspired at where we’ve gone and by what is left to do.

My favorite Microsoft marketing campaign was always the ‘We See’ campaign.  It was early 2000’s when it was run, but the inspirational message was important.  It challenged us techies to drive harder and faster in our development of the new and great things to come.  It certainly took hold!  Now things move at a dizzying speed and it certainly doesn’t take a great deal of effort to imagine what’s next.  A few weeks back, I pontificated on the notion of Web 3.0.  I imagined a world where very few monolithic data sources are walled gardens, and everything is a RESTFul service, just waiting to be consumed and mashed and made into what’s next.  I imagined a web that is less about the content and social and more about the connectedness and the stream of thought that communicates reality in new and different ways.  Today, I see the ‘cloud’ becoming just another service or endpoint where things get done, people come together, and services for the masses get built.  That cloud could be out on what we see as the internet today, or behind a firewall, or something in between.  I see software being written more and more to leverage common constructs like ‘productivity’ and ‘play’ without much regard for the platform or device.  The ubiquity of connectedness (assuming AT&T&T doesn’t impose a 5 meg data cap on everything and everyone to maintain their age old monopoly on telecommunications) will be complete and those walls of the information divide finally crumble and everyone has access to the information that matters to them.

So where does that leave me?  As a technologist I am humbled at the up and coming generation of developers that are going to continue pushing things up and to the right – just now graduating college or maybe even having graduated in the previous couple of years.  Their challenge is to develop this brave new world of interconnectedness, to continue to create disruptive technologies that raise the level of understanding in the world of how technology and culture collide and sometimes clash.  Their challenge is to take what my generation did and do something better, something more profound – to be what’s next.  And in doing so, hopefully they will make the pace of change continue outmode even themselves – much like the pace of change outmoded my generation.  We’ll continue to strive to build that interconnected world, but it is those young wipper snappers that will ultimately do it.  They will be the ones to see the internet ubiquitous, humans land on Mars, cars fly, energy free and clean and so much more.  Lucky bastards.  I, however, get to raise two very wonderful little boys – and they to, get to be what’s next.