I am an Aboriginal. There is an anecdote about James Cook’s encounter with Aborigines as part of his journey with his ship Endeavour in the 18th century. He had been welcomed with loud chanting by the native population of Tahiti, with stones by the Maori, but when he reached the Australian shore the Aborigines ignored him and went on fishing. Only after Cook lowered a small boat did the Aborigines react. The interpretation of this is that although the Aborigines must have seen the Endeavour or at least felt the waves it made, it was so alien to what they had ever seen that they did not know how to respond to it. Only when a smaller boat entered their world did they have the context for a response. Some believe we are currently in a similar situation: that technological developments, often labelled a ‘revolution’, are ‘for most common users (…) too fundamental to be perceived as such’ (Kranenburg – The Internet of things, 2005). I do not see it.
This is not to say that I am blind to the changes taking place, like the impact of technological innovations on our society at large and on individual behaviour in particular. And I am sure that it will change the world we live in, no doubt about it. But the question is how the world will change. Predictions are difficult, especially about the future, as Niels Bohr stated. It is no trouble whatsoever to find quotes from currently successful CEOs who were dead wrong in their predictions some thirty years ago. It is just as easy to quote people who were spot-on. It is an even ball game. In a free world speculations about future developments thrive, and some may seem more logical or imaginable than others. Guarantees are not included, surprises are not excluded.
An additional question is how much the world will change due to technological developments. For some, ‘the Singularity’ is in sight, the point at which we can live on in a digital world, complete with our identity and consciousness (Kurzweil). Nothing gets lost. Most of us hunger simply for a way to remember all our passwords, an easier way to programme our video recorder, and for a solution to synchronizing data across our laptop, iPod, desktop and phone. These problems will probably be fixed in the coming years and replaced by other daily (though not trivial) worries that technology will bring us. I believe that in say 20 years’ time I will not be an alien to the place I currently occupy and travel through. Besides the fact that the landscape will be more or less the same, as well as the fact that other people will still be around to communicate and work with, I have a body that needs nurturing. This paramount reality will still be there. For some the body is what is holding us back, for others it is the ground that secures us, now and in the future. The argument that the exponential growth or acceleration of developments we are likely to see will make the coming 20 years different from the past 20 years may be true for some things (transistors in a chip), but not everything is up to speed. Technology operates in a context that contains different paces: human behaviour, economic equilibriums, political compromises and social constraints. As history has shown us, innovation is a complex process with many factors influencing its progress and pace.