The Flower, the Field and the Stack

The interconnectedness of all things, or finding compassion in TCP/IP.

No slides – possibly a Web Directions first!

“You may not know this, but the Normals are freaking out.”

They are losing their minds about the things we do – the web, technology, digital design… they are completely losing it.

Pretty much every country in the world has a law or push to attempt to “record everything on the web and monitor and censor it”… he worries politicians have shares in hard drive companies.

Recently Britain had some “rather rubbish” riots; and in response the PM wanted to be able to turn off social media during times of crisis. “this is the level of discussion we have…”

We can be outraged or simply confused why anyone would think this was a good idea… but before we can have any real debates with politicians we need to understand why people outside this room (WDS12) is confused and worried and scared.

Without understanding the social context of the work we do, we can’t do the really good stuff or answer criticism from people who don’t like what we’re doing.

Moore’s Law – every year or so computing power doubles for the same price. We already know this, it’s why our devices are rubbish as soon as we’ve bought them. What you might not be aware of is this is the first time in the history of humanity to have this phenomenon. Swords did not get twice as sharp, horses did not get twice as fast. We live under Moore’s Law and this breaks many things; modifies politics and so on.

We also never used the same tools to make the next tool – swords did not make swords.

While we, developers, are used to a fast cadence, other people are not. Politicians are used to making laws to last 10, 20 years.

In ten years our phones will be radically more powerful; or the equivalent device will be 1/64th the cost. How do you come up with a policy that still makes sense in ten years time, even though you don’t understand the iphone in your pocket now?

We don’t know what technology will even look like in 2040, but people try to predict what will be happening; and it’s incredibly hard to predict.

We have careers other people don’t understand. But every generation before had a simple career path with careers that lasted their whole lives and didn’t change much.

This all adds up to the social undercurrent of what’s going on right now.

“You may not have realised this, but you are all slightly rubbish cyborg.” Our phones are our robot brain. We all have one, it’s rarely more than three feet away and we love them. If you lost your laptop you’d be upset and looking forward to buying a new one; but if you lost your phone you would freak out. We don’t remember stuff, we use our phone to remember things. Scientific studies show we are using part of our brain to monitor our phone – even if it’s turned off.

Everyone feels phantom vibration, heavy social media users have been known to feel phantom vibration even while holding the phone in their hand.

It’s become part of our emotional mind. If you have been on social networks long enough you have learned to monitor the general state of mind of people you connect with. If their pattern or style changes or stops, you will start to notice their absence and you will reach out.

This is all freaking out the Normals.

The internet also came into business like Godzilla into Tokyo. It destroyed things – the media industry, education… – and rebuilt them in its own image.

Some people may be thinking “fuck em, we won”. We spent years being teased by the jocks and we have finally finally won after centuries of being beaten down. We just have to wait for the old guys to die out.

“Well yeah, but the thing is they’re not dying out fast enough. Moore’s Law also applies to medical technology…”

This is also a repeat of the renaissance, where a few thousand people in specific cities around the world – in many respects – control the culture. “You lot. You guys. And your friends and peers and heroes.” This tiny group controls the culture of millions.

We’ve tried to do this. All the big buzzwordy technologies have been about getting into the psyches of people around the world. The nerds controlling the minds of millions. Making sites more sticky, campaigns and apps more viral… it’s all about controlling how people deal with technology.

There comes a time in every expressive technology where people stop wondering how they were going to do things, and starting wondering what they should be doing and why. Because if they build the wrong thing, they can really hurt the people who are affected.

“Smart cities… put this in your CV now!”

It turns out sensors are cheap and so is the technology to connect them to the internet. So now cities can be measured. People can use the data to optimise their lives. In many cities public transport has GPS giving people real time access to information about when the bus really will arrive. You can decide if you have time at the pub for another beer.

But this movement is being driven by technology companies who will be selling things. They optimise for things like an efficient commute. But the university city of Orhuse(sp?), “one fifth hipster”, decided that was a problem. It’s optimising for what IBM wants to sell. They wanted to optimise not for an efficient commute, but for the beauty and serendipity of the commute.

Every city in the world is now being pushed up against technology made somewhere else – somewhere entirely outside the social context of its use. The people who create hardware and software need to be mindful of what it’s doing.

Software is political. Facebook is the Zuckerbergian vision of the world made real. It is designed to make everyone into Zuckerbergian thought monsters. It pushes the political ideal that there should not be any privacy, everything should be open. Every decision that is made at Facebook is influenced to strengthen Zuckererg’s vision. The same goes for Twitter, Microsoft, everything.

If we agree that we have become good at this stuff and the technology has become very intimate – it’s in our daily lives – and we want people to use it all the time… then we have to admit to ourselves that our culture will be imposed on our users. The time is now to be mindful of this.

The world is still run by grey haired baby boomers who really don’t understand what’s going on. We have unfortunately elected people to drive our future who are very confused by our present.

If you can remember not having a phone, your social duty now is to translate. We need translators. We need people to guide the CEOS, the ministers, the senior professionals into the modern day. If we don’t, they will continue to legislate against modernity. They will continue to enact legislation that is pointless or harmful and we will continue to have the same tired debates.

There are changes we’ve not remarked upon.

Ubiquity of reviewing is a huge change – we can now review anything we do. You no longer have to spend years become a restaurant critic, you just need to go to a review website and write something. There are sites to review everything. We have become used to the idea that we should be able to slag them off online and expect a quick response.

(reference to J Curve theory of revolution) the speed of change isn’t as fast as people expect it to be.

We’ve also changed the speed of group forming – no matter what you’re into you can find other people online who are into it to. It’s become impossible to be alone if you don’t want to be.

These are huge social drivers. We are coming to a point where we could bring about massive change for the better. But if we continue to make things blindly, maximising simply for income or hype; or continue to blindly consume things; then we’ll never be able to use the revolutionary properties of the web to change the world for the good. But if you do, you are living in a great time to change the world.

It is an awesome responsibility and an awesome power.