De­sign­ing the fu­ture, part III

Vaughan Rowsell on how tech­nolog y should i mprove how we spend our l ei sure time Longer

Idealog - - CONTENTS -

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.

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