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If-Then and Antiquities of the Future

By - April 03, 2012

Over the past few months I’ve been developing a framework for the book I’ve been working on, and while I’ve been pretty quiet about the work, it’s time to lay it out and get some responses from you, the folks I most trust with keeping me on track.

I’ll admit the idea of putting all this out here makes me nervous – I’ve only discussed this with a few dozen folks, and now I’m going public with what I’ll admit is an unbaked cake. Anyone can criticize it now, (or, I suppose, steal it), but then again, I did the very same thing with the core idea in my last book (The Database of Intentions, back in 2003), and that worked out just fine.

So here we go. The original promise of my next book is pretty simple: I’m trying to paint a picture of the kind of digital world we’ll likely live in one generation from now, based on a survey of where we are presently as a digital society. In a way, it’s a continuation and expansion of The Search – the database of intentions has expanded from search to nearly every corner of our world – we now live our lives leveraged over digital platforms and data. So what might that look like thirty years hence?

As the announcement last year stated:

WHAT WE HATH WROUGHT will give us a forecast of the interconnected world in 2040, then work backwards to explain how the personal, economic, political, and technological strands of this human narrative have evolved from the pivotal moment in which we find ourselves now.

That’s a pretty tall order. At first, I spent a lot of time trying to boil any number of oceans – figuring out who to talk to in politics, energy, healthcare, technology, and, well, just about every major field. It quickly became quite evident that I’d end up with a book a thousand miles wide and one inch deep – unless I got very lucky and stumbled upon a perfect narrative actor that tied it all up into one neat story. Last time Google provided me that actor, but given I’m writing a book about how the world might look in 30 years, I’m not holding my breath waiting for another perfect protagonist to step out a time machine somewhere.

But what if those protagonists are already here? Allow me to explain…

For the past few months I’ve been stewing on how the hell to actually write this book I’ve promised everyone I would deliver. The manuscript is not actually due till early next year, but still, books take a lot of time. And every day that goes by without a clear framework is a day partially lost.

A couple of months ago, worried that I’d never figure this thing out (but knowing there had to be a way), I invited one of  my favorite authors (and new Marin resident) Steven Johnson over to my house for a brainstorming session. I outlined where I was in my thinking, and posed to him my essential problem: I was trying to do too much, and needed to focus my work on a narrative that paid off the promise, but didn’t read like a textbook, or worse yet, like a piece of futurism. As I said to Steven, “If I write a book that has a scene where an alarm clock wakes you up on a ‘typical morning in 2045,’ please shoot me.”

It’s not that I don’t appreciate futurism – it’s just that I truly believe, as William Gibson famously put it, that the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. If I could just figure out a way to report on that future, to apply the tools of journalism to the story of the future we’re creating, I’d come up with a book worth reading. Of course, it was this approach we took in the early years of Wired magazine. Our job, as my colleague Kevin Kelly put it, was to send writers off in search of where the future was erupting, with instructions to report back.

To find that future, we asked our writers (and editors) to look hard at the present, and find people, places or things that augured what might come next. Hence, issue one of Wired had articles about the future of war, education, entertainment, and sex, based on reporting done in the here and now. While we didn’t call it such, over the years we developed an “If-Then” approach to many of the stories we’d assign. We’d think out loud: “If every school had access to the Internet, then what might change about education?” Or, “If the government had the ability to track everything we do both offline and on, then what might our society look like?” The conditional “If” question followed with a realistic “Then” answer provided a good way to wrap our heads around a sometimes challenging subject  (and for you programmers out there, we’d also consider the “ands” as well as the “elses.”)

Next, we’d ask a reporter to go find out all he or she could about that scenario – to go in search of artifacts from the future which told a story of where things might be going. (Wired, in fact, later created the popular “Found: Artifacts from the Future” series in the pages of the magazine.)

As an early reader and contributor to Wired, Steven knew all this, and reminded me of it as we spoke that day at my house. What if, he asked me, the book was framed as a series of stories about “future antiquities” or “future relics” (I think he first dubbed them “Magic Coins”)? Could we find examples of things currently extant, which, if widely adopted over the next generation, would presage significant changes in the world we’ll be inhabiting? Why, indeed, yes we could. Immediately I thought of five or six, and since that day, many more have come to mind.

Now, I think it bears unpacking this concept of what I mean by “widely adopted.” To me, it means clearing a pretty high hurdle – by 2045 or so, it’d mean that more than a billion people would be regularly interacting with whatever the future antiquity might be.  When you get a very large chunk of the population engaged in a particular behavior, that behavior has the ability to effect real change on our political, social, and cultural norms. Those are the kind of artifacts I’m looking to find.

As a thought experiment, imagine I had given myself this assignment back in the early 1980s, when I was just starting my love affair with this story as a technology reporter (yes, there’s a symmetry here – that’s 30 years ago – one generation past). Had I gone off in search of digital artifacts that presaged the future, ones that I believed might be adopted by a billion or more people, I certainly would have started with the personal computer, which at that point was counted in the high hundreds of thousands in the US. And I also would have picked the Internet, which was being used, at that point, by only thousands of people. I’d have described the power of these two artifacts in the present day, imagined how technological and social change might develop as more and more people used them, and spoken to the early adopters, entrepreneurs, and thinkers of the day about what would happen if a billion or more people were using them on a regular basis.

An antiquity from the 1980s, with its future descendant (image from machinelake.com)

Pushing the hypothetical a bit further, I imagine I’d find the Dan Bricklins, Vint Cerfs, Ray Ozzies, and Bill Gates of the day, and noticed that they hung out in universities, for the most part. I’d have noticed that they used their computers and online networks to communicate with each other, to share information, to search and discover things, and to create communities of interest. It was in those universities where the future was erupting 30 years ago, and had I been paying close attention, it’s plausible I might have declared email, search, and social networks – or at least “communities on the Internet” – as artifacts of our digital future. And of course, I’d have noticed the new gadget just released called the mobile phone, and probably declared that important as well. If more than a billion people had a mobile phone by 2012, I’d have wondered, then what might our world look like?

I’m pretty sure I’d have gotten a lot wrong, but the essential framework – a way to think about finding and declaring the erupting future – seems a worthy endeavor. So I’ve decided to focus my work on doing just that. It helps that it combines two of my favorite approaches to thinking – anthropology and journalism. In essence, I’m going on a dig for future antiquities.

So what might some of today’s artifacts from the future be? I don’t pretend to have an exhaustive list, but I do have a good start. And while the “If-Then” framework could work for all sorts of artifacts, I’m looking for those that “ladder up” to significant societal change. To that end, I’ve begun exploring innovations in energy, finance, health, transportation, communications, commerce – not surprisingly, all subjects to which we have devoted impressive stone buildings in our capital city. (Hence my trip to DC last week.)

Here’s one example that might bring the concept home: The Fitbit. At present, there are about half a million of them in the world, as far as I can tell (I’m meeting with the company soon). But Fitbit-like devices are on the rise – Nike launched its FuelBand earlier this year, for example. And while the first generation of these devices may only appeal to early adopters, with trends in miniaturization, processing power, and data platforms, it’s not hard to imagine a time when billions of us are quantifying our movement, caloric intake and output, sleep patterns, and more, then sharing that data across wide cohorts so as to draw upon the benefits of pattern-recognizing algorithms to help us make better choices about our behavior.

If that were to happen, what then might be the impact on our healthcare systems? Our agricultural practices and policies? Our insurance industries? Our life expectancies? I’m not entirely sure, but it’d sure be fun to try to answer such questions.

I won’t tip my hand as to my entire current list of Future Antiquities, but I certainly would welcome your ideas and input as to what they might be. I’d also like your input on the actual title of the book. “What We Hath Wrought” is a cool title, but perhaps it’s a bit….too heady. Some might even call it overwrought. What if I called the book “If-Then”? I’m thinking about doing just that. Let me know in comments, and as always, thanks for reading.

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66 thoughts on “If-Then and Antiquities of the Future

  1. certainly an ambitious project ahead. I have read your previous book and looking forward to this one. 
    Good point on the fitbit-like devices. These devices are spreading rapidly and Nike is bringing these concepts to mass market. As you pointed out many times, what about the data that are stored by those platforms? Who owns the data? Who manages those data and have access to them?

    Another point  I would like to highlight is the emergence of the Makers movement, with Arduino and the 3D printer Makerbot as examples. We are going towards a world where anybody can create things and share/sell those creations immediately. That seems a pretty interesting trend going forward.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks Christian, yes I have my eye on the 3D printer for sure, as well as the data ownership issue which I think can be “artifactized” via efforts like Singly…

  2. Love the project. Title preference: If/Then
    My pet future antiquity: Cryptography / computer security 
    We’re in the cave man days of digital security right now, where any moderately skilled, semi-motivated attacker can gain access to most everything digital that matters to you (see scarlett johansson).  The ‘privacy is dead’ meme largely assumes that the current security asymmetry will continue – a very few individuals and organizations have access to real security, the rest of us are left vulnerable. If the future, as Gibson wrote, is simply unevenly distributed then the future of security is already, at least conceptually, here. 
    So what happens when(if) high level cryptosystems are ubiquitous and easy to use? When real security is available to every computer user?
    We open up a dramatically different approach to data, to reputation, to governance. 
    Crypto-guru Ben Adida gives some insight here, “Modern Cryptography would, if properly implemented, give us all the functionality of Facebook without the aggregation of everyone’s data in a single data center. And we couldn’t be further from this world if we tried!” (http://bit.ly/fXa8rm – the rest of the piece is worth a read)
    Usable and ubiquitous crypto combined with internet and computer security could open a world of highly-trusted pseudonymous communication, allowing for new kinds of information transactions from internet voting to new forms of whistleblowing. Of course, as with every technology, there are concerning aspects to making these forms of secure computing and communication available to everyone but on balance, as we’ve seen with other controversial technologies, the benefits that come from sending power to the edges outweigh the costs. 

    I’ve written more about some of this here – http://restartdemocracy.org/2011/12/06/coases-ballot/
    Thanks for sharing this at the early stages and I look forward to reading more as the project progresses!
    -Chris
     

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for this. I know how important cryptography was at the start of the web, it’s certainly worth seeing where it stands today.

  3. “To that end, I’ve begun exploring innovations in energy, finance, health, transportation, communications, commerce – not surprisingly, all subjects to which we have devoted impressive stone buildings in our capital city.” – I think you nailed the general framework with that statement. As obvious as it might seem, after reading that, it’s “where all the marbles are”. Those sectors of society, along with anthropology/culture, seem like a solid foundation… 
    I think people like Sean Parker are right that music may have a large role in connecting all the dots. For example, I read an article a few days ago that talked about teaching drones to learn human gestures (http://econ.st/HvIvwt). I’ve thought about a similar concept; matching music, from one’s library, to the movement of individuals throughout a room.

    You could account for what’s being discussed in conversations, keywords being used, tone of voice, the room’s lighting, elevation (affecting ear drum sensitivity – ??), age of the individuals, room temperature, etc. The music, most appropriate for the room’s environment, would be selected by analyzing everything in the room. With that type of technology, maybe we could improve cultural differences in certain social situations. And it would include using data from devices, such as the Nike Fuelband. That’s just my imagination talking, so… You asked for ideas…
    For naysayers on the title of the book: you’re not contemplating what type of sandwich to make for lunch. What We Hath Wrought is perfect. In fact, it’s kinda badass, IMHO. Great post.

  4. I’ve always wondered if the Roomba is our artifact from the future. We think it’s cute that anyone with $600 and change can have a robot clean their room, not realizing that within a generation we’ll all have robots taking care of our aging parents, cleaning our house, preparing some meals for us, entertaining/teaching our kids, etc.

    I think there’s one around the electric car and the rental economy (Car2Go, etc.) and dramatically increased solar cell efficiency creating a wildly different transportation and energy infrastructure with all sorts of dramatically unpredicted consequences.

  5. Dave Shikiar says:

    “If, Come”   

  6. If/Then is a great title when you understand its meaning; but it could lose a few people who may not get it and stop to browse.  And talking of meaning, I’m sure you’re already thinking about the slow and inevitable spread of deeper semantics into our software which itself is spreading deeper and deeper into the infrastructure of our society.  The implications of semantics are profound and can impact culture, language, integrity and more.  I wrote a short piece a while back on how it may force us to be more honest and transparent – http://bit.ly/HmjdiP
    It’s a fascinating subject.  I wish you all the best with your book, and will be happy to be a reviewer when you get to that point.- Balaji Prasad

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for this. Yes it is fascinating.
      I rather like If – Then, maybe it’s If, Then, or If/Then, but it’s a phrase that means a lot to everyone – not just geeks….

  7. John Leahy says:

    Really interesting.  I do prefer “If-Then” over “What We Hath Wrought.”  To me, “If-Then” doesn’t feel as ‘grand’ as the book topic, but nothing is coming to mind about how I might change it to be more ‘weighty’ (but less weighty than “What We Hath Wrought”).  Just my $.02.

    As far as future artifacts, I’m (too) interested in two general ideas:

    (1) Khan Academy – as someone who spends way too much time trying to figure out education, I believe that this is a pretty significant one (beyond the Open Course ware excitement that’s going on).  This is finally a case where the resources and skill levels are decoupled (so smart students can just plow through the material and struggling ones can watch videos, search google, get help from friends/teachers).  In addition, if one uses the website outside of a classroom, it breaks the assumptions that there’s are scheduled due dates, that a student has to pay money (when scoring and videos are basically automated), or that you need money/connections/location to learn something.

    (2) Amazon Web Services (and others), Lulu, Adwords, TaskRabbit – I can’t help think that more and more large pools of goods/services will become available using nothing more than a self-serve interface and a credit card.  I see the startups of today getting an idea and buying $50 of computing resources and gradually scaling up to $50,000.  Maybe the startup of tomorrow will be a few people designing an awesome toy and buying a little bit of manufacturing resources, shipping resources, advertising placement, and shelf space – and if they are successful, slowly and easily scaling up all of those resources in tandem.

    • Anonymous says:

      Great input. Khan is for sure on my radar (Web 2 speaker last year) and I’m in Seattle right now, meeting with AmazonŠ..thanks!

  8. [...] sort of related ‘not quite futurism’ front, see this recent post from John Battelle: If-Then and Antiquities of the Future (which also put me in mind of @briankelly’s The History Of The Web Backwards). Rate this: [...]

  9. Tagus says:

    I suggest “Evenly Distributed: How Today’s Creations Will Be Tomorrow’s Artifacts”

    Every good nonfiction title needs a colon. :-)

  10. [...] My understanding is this was an amiable agreement based totally on Battelle’s obsessions with his new book and responsibilities at Federated Media. It had little to do with the economics of the [...]

  11. [...] explain why. For the most part, it has to do with my book, the subject of which was outlined in my previous post. As the person who focuses on the core product – the programming on the stage – I just [...]

  12. [...] the decision to suspend the Web 2.0 Summit is due to a simple time crunch. He’s working on a book, and he is not able to dedicate the time necessary to planning the conference this year that it [...]

  13. falicon says:

    Random title ideas:

    “Today’s toys, tomorrow’s tools”

    “Diamonds in the rough”

    “Critical mass and the birth of our future.”

    “The path from exceptional to common place”

    …btw, fitbit is a great example and really helps frame the overall idea for me…I’ll ponder it some more and likely come back with more/better comments later ;-)

  14. Anonymous says:

    If/Then really isn’t working for me.  I’m liking In My Day … with a tagline of Finding The Future Before It Is.
    Or possibly How Did We Ever Exist Before ..?

  15. Clyde Smith says:

    One Laptop Per Child comes to mind with its laptop that looks like a toy and its promise of a future where everyone is online if they wish to be.  Which also raises the question of what tools will be used by those who opt out of the always connected world.

  16. Anonymous says:

    The One Laptop comment got me thinking about vision.  I work with a foundation that gives medical mobility equipment to those who can’t afford it.  Their vision is “A Virginia where every need for mobility related rehabilitation equipment is fulfilled.”  www.free-foundation.org.  That’s a vision that can be realized in a generation.  It would be interesting to correlate the visions of the companies you focus on with the future you see evolving from massive adoption of their products/services.   

  17. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed your last book and look forward to this one.  Let me share some thoughts with your last book as a backdrop.
    I thought it was terrific.  However, I felt that the area that were most interesting and in some of what drove you on this blog — the “database of intentions” and the implications of Google (or other search engines) having that data stream of individuals hasn’t played out as much as one might expect in the public’s mind.  Its probably played an important role in how businesses operate but the wider implications may take years to be fully appreciated.  
    And to me that makes it interesting and is more important than whether the trend line we went down was precisely the trendline you might have predicted.  The day, whether one year or five or ten or whenever that somehow the entire Google list of searches, categorized by user, leaks, will be the day that I can say, I knew the implications of Google having that information when I started reading Battelle’s work.  Furthermore, I think highlighting particular issues can, in a certain sense, like Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle,” affect the direction of those issues so that the predictions of how they are resolved can be shifted by their being highlighted.  And I think that’s important.
    If, many years ago, someone had written a book about the implications of our offshoring — that there are things that would benefit us and our businesses but that might come at a price over the long-term, I think that contribution would be important.  Whether they got the picture in 20 or 40 years right would matter less than that they raised the most important implications.  Let me add that you might consider in this blog asking your readership what areas they consider to have possible important implications in thirty years that you might consider (you no doubt have many thoughts but a few others might help).  You may be kind of asking that now but might consider posing this question more pointedly down the line.  Thanks.

  18. LukeG says:

    I wonder how we deal with information overabundance. E.g.: 

    – every day, 300MM-400MM+ photos are shared online (for context, as of mid-2011 the entire web had 350MM registered domains). 
    – every minute, 60 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube.
    – etc, etc

    That massive amount of noise is the unintended byproduct of cameras in every smartphone, but the same pattern is repeated all over the place.

    How do we deal with the flood? What sort of collective memories and behaviors emerge?

  19. You have sensors, which is definitely one area I’d look at. Two others I would probably spend some time on are payment systems (eg. bitcoins or e-wallets) and 3D printing. 6 years ago (!), I did a quick series on some of the stuff I thought had long term impact. Some of it may be relevant to what you’re doing so here goes: http://www.tnl.net/blog/2006/05/10/future-tense-intro/

  20. Doug Thompson says:

    Hey John, check out time-banking.  The internet is making it possible as never before.  In general check out anything where the internet makes it possible for people and communities to get things done without money — not just in the digital world (e.g. Wikipedia) but also the physical world.  Could be key to getting along in the post-crisis debt-overhang world.

    “Magic Coins” seems like a great title…..

  21. [...] Continue reading on John Battelle’s blog. [...]

  22. JM says:

    The Fitbit poses an interesting train of thought including the data potential that correlates to scientists already banking on humans living to 100+-1000+ through micro and meta level care.  What meaning then, does an artifact take on for the rising number of centenarians vs a 1000 yr old? 
    What are the potentials with 3D organ printing, Dr Aubrey de Grey’s theories, how long a car/school/career/relationships should last and will we move to a Chinese based population system that in today’s terms is inhuman? And are we binding ourselves into a state of loneliness through the advancements in technology, health and ageism? Things I started to think about with your article, thanks Battelle. Looking forward to the book! 

  23. DMattia says:

    Great comments on this post.  Not sure if this fits the theme you are trying to capture straight away:  I sense the pendulum will move away from the “me” era towards something slowly and increasingly assembling a “we” era. I suspect this will take more than a decade and maybe several as we look back this way a little like the 80’s look now in movies. 

    I think the subtext of this thought may be more valuable. How will digital businesses respond to the power of “we”?  My guess is to look to your old colleague and invoke mass specialization of software for both individuals and specific groups of all sizes. As mentioned above, this will serve the growing need to address security and emerging norms that will go along with the time of “we”.

    I like “What Hath We Wrought?” if you frame it.

  24. David says:

    How about “If and Then” as a title? When I see “If – then,” it makes it sound like one leads inevitably to the other. Whereas, “if and then” allows for the possibility of “and then and then and then…”.

    You should consider how people will conceal themselves from those algorithms as well. As the data gets better, people will start cluing in to the fact that their devices are watching them back. Other than turning on privacy settings in greater numbers, I’m not sure what people are doing right now, but you may find interesting artifacts, including techniques, in countries that have more extensive surveillance.

    Another artifact I can think of is those low orbit server drones that people are building. You put a server on a little flying device and send it over a city. When you consider that the Pirate Bay can now reconstitute itself from a file that fits on a keychain USB drive, that could turn into something.  Don’t know what, though. I’ll leave that to you to figure out.

  25. Lewis Perelman says:

    John, an article I just read about the euro crisis suggested that in thinking about the future there are white swans, grey swans, and black swans. The whites are the things that are pretty certain or whose probability can be accurately gauged. The blacks of course are the inevitable surprises. And the greys are sort of in between, often hostage to political shifts.

    I used a similar approach of ‘triage’ in assessing the potential future impacts of alternative energy technologies in this paper:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/74560806/Near-Term-Potential-of-Climate-Friendly-Technologies

    In that case I divided technologies into (a) commercially feasible or soon to be; (b) in development, with good prospects for becoming commercial in the medium term; and (c) potential breakthroughs that are currently uncertain or improbable, but at least some of which are likely to happen sooner or later.

    Maybe this can help organize your big think.

  26. Our sense of time and ability to prioritize has clearly shifted in ways that are significant.  It may be worth devoting some space to fundamental shifts in attitude, thinking and the relationship between the individual and the environment.  More here … http://bit.ly/HvOmEC 

  27. Hello John,

    Fascinating premise and foundation for your upcoming book! I am glad I saw your tweet and opened the link.

    Some thoughts:

    • I like that you’re making it realistic, not futuristic, and spanning a
    simple generation. This is a reasonable and relevant amout of time considering the
    exponential change incurred by technology. Your relating recent past
    artifacts and their current impact increased my intrigue and level of
    engagement in what you would you would be sharing in the book!

    • I like the “If – Then” title. It gives some potential impact for
    thoughtful consideration without the dire-sounding and more certain
    (almost arrogant) pronouncement of  “What We Hath Wrought”.

    Other related imagery that came to mind for what you’re discussing are: A
    grain of sand changing to pearl, and the idea of the snowball which
    gets bigger as it rolls.

    • The thinking of LukeG resonated with me as an area of focus. How will
    we cope as a society and as individuals with the overabundance of
    information? Related, we are being “push notification’d” to insanity!

    • Another area of possible “magic coinage” is what may best be referred
    to as “Terrarium Syndrome”. The generation of the next 30 years will
    have grown up in public, in a glass bubble essentially. When I was being
    raised, our family photo albums and  home movies were things to be
    shared (and laughed at) within the home, and personal information and family
    issues were kept within the walls of the family home or perhaps with very few close friends and relatives. Now, many parents are documenting
    *publicly* every aspect of their child’s lives from IVF blogs to
    specific birth information to everyday events (as though they are
    milestones) to conflicts and issues they are experiencing to school info
    to allowing their under-age children on social media … (the list goes
    on!).  Photos, videos, personal information ~ all recorded for general
    public consumption. I wonder the implications of this level of exposure,
    combined with these kids’ continued self-exposure as young people and adults. Will this generation rebel and
    decrease this level of open living or will their already exposed lives continue to feed society’s machines with personal data? Will legal rights be changed in favour of
    children’s protection? How will it impact on their own future parenting
    choices? How will privacy technology, rights, and responsibilities morph
    to accommodate?

    John, I respect that you put your unfinished work out there for feedback.  I hope you get valuable feedback to assist you in making your
    book even better.  I am interested to read it!

    All the best!

    Janine Murray
     

  28. Maddie Grant says:

    Just did a presentation recently on tech trends of the future – identified big data, personalization, the web of things and augmented reality as my four big themes.  (Prezi here – http://prezi.com/ugnudh3wmfam/mind-blown-technologies-of-the-future/) Seems sort of related, about technology becoming invisible and woven into the fabric of our lives as opposed to futuristic “objects”.  The prezi includes a bunch of videos you might like – though you have done way more research on these topics than I have :)

  29. [...] If-then and antiquities of the future: by John Battelle, thinking about the framework for his next book. “If I could just figure out a way to report on that future, to apply the tools of journalism to the story of the future we’re creating, I’d come up with a book worth reading.” [...]

  30. How about “Modern Relics” or “Future Relics” or “Mummies of the 21st Century” for titles? Just want to offer a few alternatives. “If – Then” is brief and to the point.

    And here is another thought: it’s possible to speculate about progression, as you mention in your post. That’s what your book is about. However, it’s more difficult to predict reaction. Seems like technology progresses linearly until it evokes a reaction. People stop using certain technology because it harms the ozone layer, or releases poisonous gasses to the atmosphere, or proves a bad influence to their children, etc. They react to something that has progressed linearly, and the trend suddenly shifts to its opposite. Don’t know if you plan to take this into account.

    Good luck with your book

  31. [...] nation’s capital to steep in its culture a bit, and get some first hand reporting done for the book. I met with about a dozen or so folks, including several scholars, the heads of the FCC and FTC, [...]

  32. Dave Goetz says:

    John,

    I’m not sure how to say this, but I hope the book has a big thesis, more along the lines of de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, or at least Bellah’s book, Habits of the Heart. I think a fundamental question is whether you are using the digital symbols to develop a much larger idea, or are the symbols themselves the idea. I would like to know whether the shifts now going on, especially the social, are really shaping culture – are we becoming better people, more focused on community (local, the earth, etc), and are we truly grappling with some of the larger issues that threaten the planet. Or are we simply becoming slightly more narcissistic. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but not interesting. I’d love to read a book that can translate current reality into the so what? for humanity. I think your thesis needs to be very big.

    • Anonymous says:

      I appreciate the thought, Dave. I want it to be big. In fact, I’ve been struggling with this very question all week. I don’t think I can but tie it to a much larger frame.

      • Dave Goetz says:

        I am a fan of all things social. But I wonder if social contributes, if only a bit, to the increasing tribalism and isolationism that we find in Washington – and in the rest of the world. The fundamental ability to be in community with someone with a completely different worldview seems basic to a strong social fabric. Social seems to enable both sides to be in conversation mostly with themselves, even though the opportunity is for something much greater. Perhaps that’s not true … though it feels true.

        The Peace of Westphalia, which symbolized the emergence of the nation state, may be in jeopardy … so what will hold us together as a people and as a nation, other than a killer food photo on Pinterest? Many writers have spotted the tribalism trend, which correlates with postmodernism… Like most change, it’s both good and bad, and not one or the other, I suppose.

        • Anonymous says:

          Where there is a gap, there is opportunity. I’d not be surprised if there were apps and services in the future that connected people who had different worldviews, intentionally.

  33. steve harmon says:

    Hi John, just sent you an email with a title idea. 

  34. [...] You Are Not A Gadget has been on my reading list for nearly two years, and if nothing else comes of this damn book I’m trying to write, it’ll be satisfying to say that I’ve made my way through any number of important works [...]

  35. [...] to step away from the Web 2 Summit as inevitable for two main reasons. First, I needed to work on the book, and there didn’t seem to be room for such an ambitious project if I kept my two other day [...]

  36. [...] title was “What We Hath Wrought.” Now, I’m thinking it’ll be called “If/Then.” I may yet call it “If/Then…Else” – or, as I wander through this [...]

  37. [...] about to go onstage and give a talk about the themes of the upcoming book at Time Warner, and one thing I’m going to show is this video from Oblong Industries, an [...]

  38. [...] by me): For the most part, it has to do with my book, the subject of which was outlined in my previous post. As the person who focuses on the core product – the programming on the stage – I just could [...]

  39. [...] FM as CEO. I also mentioned that the projects I’d been working on – notably OpenCo and The Book, would have to be retooled given my new commitment to the company I started back in 2005 (when I [...]

  40. [...] you work on a book, even one as slow to develop as if/then, certain catch phrases develop. People ask you what the book is about, or the shape of its core [...]

  41. [...] before you head for the exits with eyes a rollin’, allow me to explain. You may recall that If/Then is being written as an archaeology of the future. We’re identifying “artifacts” [...]

  42. [...] guest is John Battelle, founder of Federated Media, CEO of NewCo and author of upcoming title, If/Then. This is an interview that is worth the watch but just in case you are one of those [...]