Disclaimer: Forgive me for the ramble. I started this blog off on quite a separate topic, and in doing so found myself on quite a different train of thought.. If you do end up staying with me to the end, I'd really appreciate reading your comments so I can start to formulate a more cohesive account of what we are trying to say.
One of the most challenging jobs I consider is the role of technical Sales. I've been involved in quite a few software businesses where the salesperson has to have a full grasp of not just the company's immediate offering, but how it may strategically evolve to become the right choice for the customer.
Ironically there is a parallel here with car industry. Companies like Lucas used to develop car headlamps (their premium models branded "King of the Road") and other specialist car parts. I have a vague recollection of being on holiday in the West of France with my family when the Vauxhall Frontera was relaunched with a fundamentally different rear suspension system, dramatically improving the car. From the AA:
"Semi-elliptic rear leaf springs gave these early models an unrefined ride, but things changed for the better in April 1995 with the introduction of a coil-sprung rear axle, plus better brakes and improved rear door opening with lifting glass."
The real crux here is that when there is a major leap forward in technology or innovation, there is a transitional period where the customers who don't understand the technology need to have a technical salesperson explain the benefits. Once the technology is bedded in, there is less of a need for the technical sales as the technology has become, if not ubiquitous, at least understood in the realm in which it is used.
For digital communications, this same phenomenon appears to have occurred. In the late 90s and early 00s digital was about having an online presence; it then became the focus of communications experts to align the online presence with the offline marketing plans. Following on from this we've seen the social media boom, and now marketing departments are starting to understand what social networks are, their advantages and drawbacks, and aligning all their messaging accordingly.
It seems to me that the next jump is going to be another technical one. With the imminent introduction of browser-to-browser communication, what are the innovations or restrictions that such technology may carry? Having recently read (and commented on) @Documentally's piece on the 'Perfect Prison' - what could the internet look like in another 5 years?
In the last 200 years the majority of the Western World has been fortunate. We've been able to align the progress of time with what feels like improvement. This story, perpetuated by the media and by ideas such as "Moore's Law" has made us believe that through the simple passage of time things will get better*. However, could the real story be that, as a society, we are starting to regress?
I am a huge fan of Hans Rosling, though his talks on the wealth of nations in comparison to life expectancy over the last 200 years aligns more with the first story than the latter. In them, however, you'll see anomalies that don't match the overall story are ignored. In the disclaimer there's also the admission that due to the pure volume and scarcity of data, some of it has been 'normalised' and 'interpolated' to enable its use in the chart.
One of the most intriguing articles I read at the end of 2013 (it was actually published in Feb 2012) was on against TED. I've always had a soft spot for TED. I used to spend afternoons at college with a friend pinging each other TED talks. They were a 'cool' glimpse into what would be possible in the future. Intelligent role models taking time to share their ideas in a way that we could easily digest. The most intriguing part of the criticism for me was the following paragraph:
At TED, “everyone is Steve Jobs” and every idea is treated like an iPad. The conferences have come to resemble religious meetings and the TED talks techno-spiritual sermons, pushing an evangelical, cultish attitude toward “the new ideas that will change the world.” Everything becomes “magical” and “inspirational.” In just the top-ten most-viewed TED talks, we get the messages of “inspiration,” “astonishment,” “insight,” “mathmagic” and the “thrilling potential of SixthSense technology”! The ideas most popular are those that pander to a metaphysical, magical portrayal of the role of technology in the world.
Technology is what we make of it. As a technologist myself, I'm sometimes the awe of my friends when they come round and see that I've got my heating system graphing hourly electricity usage, and I can set my alarm in the morning to not bother turning the hot water on because I know I'll be showering at work after cycling in. This isn't mystical, nor is it a 'great leap forward' - it's actually using five year old technology in a way that the original inventor did not intend.
Behind all the technology that we're currently using is an inventor that has set the technology up and is manipulating it in some way. Sometimes it's obvious and we are fully aware of the manipulation and carry on; other times it's more subtle. I think the big change over the next few years will be algorithms that are not used simply to manipulate, but to identify where this manipulation fails and find ways of making it work. We will be made redundant from our roles as technical salespeople, as people think they understand how the technology works and can make the decisions themselves, but with the oversimplification of the technologies so 'everyone can understand it' comes a price. The price, in this case, is the freedom to choose.