500 Words | Written by Lee Schneider
I am thinking out loud. Reading the Steve Jobs biography. (The good one, not one of the knockoffs.)
Thinking about this quote: The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Attributed in various forms to engineers, thinkers, inventors. How do we go about inventing the future? There is a stew of culture that gives rise to huge movements – it’s a heaving mess, too big to see when you’re in it. Steve Jobs lived in the intersection of hippie and engineer culture, a California mix tape of brainy nerds meeting in Palo Alto garages, millionaires minted on an idea, a design notion, a mind-blip that blew up to become a world-dominating industry. How do you incubate that? You can’t. At Xerox PARC they bitmap the screen, Jobs rips it off, and you get fonts and graphics and a mouse to point at it all. Replicate that moment? You can’t. It’s immoral, it’s Picasso saying good artists borrow, great artists steal. You can’t put enough coffee in a present-day Voltaire to yield Candide, you can’t take a patent clerk and assign him the task of writing about the energy content of an inertial mass and expect to have an Einstein who will boost your IPO. This means that the future is even more unknown than it used to be.
My prediction: What will happen next will be as galvanizing as the creation of the first personal computer. Thousands of start-uppers and DIYers are looking for something amazing, unsettling and world-breaking. Now there can be a $45 million bank heist that knits together hackers in 24 countries. In NYC alone, they withdrew $2.4 million from ATMs in just ten hours. Now people can meet, connect, do harm, do good, do so faster than cops, faster than law, faster than reason.
If you’re serious about software, you have to be serious about hardware. Social media has us marching in place, re-arranging pixels on our screens, heaving in seas of information spam that we don’t know what to do with. Like in that Bruce Willis movie, Twitter and Facebook are already dead, overcrowded, over-commercialized, more noise than signal. Disruption is already a hackneyed concept. The leaders have become followers.
Do not be alarmed. I’m just thinking out loud. Talking with a friend in NYC this week about a new communications network that does something completely amazing with live media. The power of the personal appearance, multiplied by technology. It sounds good, TED good, but I know that building social cohesion is incredibly hard. Even with a Coke-sized Big Gulp marketing budget, we’d soon be distracted by the nausea of the heaving information sea, by the baby screaming in the next room, by the money deal being formulated on a cell phone in the parking lot of your co-working space.
When building something, do not use plywood at the back, even though nobody will ever see it. Make it beautiful all the way. This was a credo of Jobs. Craft matters. Even his circuit boards had to be esthetically beautiful. What will happen next will involve something well-made, not YouTube slapped together, because well-made will hold your attention.
This is just thinking out loud. It may not end gracefully, but it does have a beautiful beginning.
First Macintosh from Wikimedia.