Designing the future, part III
Vaughan Rowsell on how technolog y should i mprove how we spend our l ei sure time Longer
Science fiction is often, and strangely, the precursor to science fact. I wonder if we are inspired by the writer’s imagination and make it real, or do they have the ability to spot what is just inevitable?
Often, amazing future technology is already real but just isn’t universally accessible yet. It’s still in the lab and 10 years away from being in our pockets. Even today, the technology you would believe to be mainstream is still not available to everyone. I may be able to rent an e-scooter with my phone then discard it in a bush in Auckland, but not in Tokoroa.
It takes time for technologies to become universally common place. Even access to the internet is not something everyone can enjoy in New Zealand. We just don’t have digital equality yet when some families can’t reliably access the internet, or even know how to make the best use of it. This may not be too important when it comes to e-scooters, but it is when it comes to voting and participating in a democracy and getting health care or education, it is vital. It’s about how we live.
As our access to technology increases, how we live does change. We know our jobs will all be radically different in the future because – technology!
And while this series was originally about the future of work, do we live to work or work to live? Technology should improve our living too, not just how we work. Perhaps we can shift the focus back to actually living for the first time since the Industrial era instead of working faster and harder.
A key part of the technological disruption of living (no – not the killer robots) is our dependence on cities. As we are able to perform more of our jobs from anywhere, we don’t need to commute as much. When access to health care becomes apps on our phone, education is tailored to our own individual learning journeys online, digital entertainment experiences become richer and as transportation becomes faster and automated, these will all reduce our dependence on living in cities and enable us to push further out to where the grass is in fact greener and the air clearer. And why wouldn’t you when you can work watching the surf break in Raglan?
Okay, perhaps that actually makes getting any work done harder. But there is some irony that while we live in the most connected world ever, with cities becoming more and more crowded, the primary way we catch up with what our friends are up to is on Instagram.
We have progressively lost our real-life connections because technology made that part of our social contract much more efficient. But are we are yearning for a shift
The future is already here – it's just not very evenly distributed” – William Gibson.
back the other way? Is the desire to be connected physically starting to outweigh the desire to be connected to wi-fi?
Technology should be enabling us to get away from the madness. I am not talking about becoming off-the-grid hippies, although technology makes that easier too.
I can 3D print my solar powered Farmbot™ to grow my veggies while I watch my Brewbot™ brew my cider. No, my hope is that we no longer need to leave our whanau and friends to move to the city for a job in the first place.
Technology can and should help up keep the most important connections, to where we came from, who we care for and where we live.
As we study, start families and move in and out of work, we should have the support from our physical communities where ever they are, and perhaps there are possibilities of new forms of financial support networks too.
Like a communal insurance you pay into, but with others you know and trust, so while you are working you all pay a little more money in, but as you need to take maternity or paternity, you take some out.
When life happens and you are inbetween jobs, your community is there to support you.
It’s like your savings account and your insurance policy hooked up, but without the middle-person. Just don’t tell the banks and insurance companies.
Isolationism is a terrible fad, but perhaps a the new cool is actually a new form of communism, and not one administered by the state. Communities of support have always existed in our lives and been a big part of our history: your village, your church, your iwi, your family. But with the push and pull between globalisation and isolationism, these communities have begun to break down and often are reduced to social media bubbles we live in and shout angrily at.
But before we all rush out to live in Raglan, one of the other roles a city fulfils is that of confluence. Our culture evolves because of the melting pots cities create. Smart people bump into smart people and great ideas happen. Art congregates in galleries. Actors in theatres. But is this confluence moving online too, to YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest?
Or does art and entertainment too need to come back from the digital realm, to be cherished in person? Does retail become more vibrant as we crave a physical connection more, to touch and have tangible connections with things? What will the future look like and will it be Okay?
One of my favourite sci-fi short stories is The Toynbee Convector by Ray Bradbury. In it, it’s the ‘80’s and the world’s future is looking dire: pollution, dying whales, economic crisis and war.
So an inventor creates a time machine that propels him forward 100 years, and
We've been promised that technology will make our lives easier since we’ve had technology and media to fib to us. We should have more leisure time, flying cars and live more delightful lives by now but we are actually working longer, harder, faster and getting more angry at strangers.
he comes back with tales of a future where we have used technology to solve all the problems.
He has photos and video to prove it too. So everyone goes “Okay cool, let’s do it” and what do you know, roll forward 100 years and Toynbee is still alive at 130 because of well, technology! War is not a thing, the whales are saved and everyone is happy and living longer.
Then, it’s the 100-year anniversary of him disappearing into the future and bringing back the amazing images of hope. He has been a hermit since, and a journalist gets the exclusive interview, the first ever, to talk to him about why he created the machine.
In the interview Toynbee confesses, “I lied, I never went to the future. I just made up stories and images of hope.” Everyone wanted to believe them, so they did, and then made the future they believed in. He then torched himself and the fake time machine so no one would ever know. But he left the choice with the reporter – should the world know, or does hope actually make anything possible? It’s a bit of a downer that Toynbee kills himself, but a big yay for believing in and creating the future you hope for.
We've been promised that technology will make our lives easier since we’ve had technology and media to fib to us. We should have more leisure time, flying cars and live more delightful lives by now but we are actually working longer, harder, faster and getting more angry at strangers. But wouldn’t it be great if technology actually helped us slow down, and make more time for what’s really important?
Innovation needs to deliver on the promise of what really matters. It’s not about the model of your smartphone, it’s all about people. Perhaps in the future, we will have more choice in the matter, and we can connect with our communities again both in and out of cities.
Or perhaps we should invent a timemachine and come up with some stories that give us more hope. As for me? I’m heading to Raglan to wait in anticipation of my flying car.
Vaughan is the founder of Vend, a New Zealand high-growth tech success story, and founder of OMGTech! a charitable initiative to help kids into careers with future technology. He was EY's Tech Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014 and is vice-chair of the NZ Hi-Tech Trust, which celebrates the NZ hi-tech industry through awards and education.