Never in my five-plus decades has a year been so eagerly anticipated, which makes this business of prediction particularly daunting. I’m generally inclined to be optimistic, but rose-colored glasses stretch time. Good things always take longer to emerge than any of us would wish. Over 18 years of doing this I’ve learned that it’s best to not predict what I wish would happen, instead, it’s wise to go with what feels most likely in the worlds I find fascinating (for me, that’s media, technology, and business, with a dash of politics given my last two years at The Recount). As I do each year, I avoid reading other folks’ year-end predictions (though I plan on getting to them as soon as I hit publish!). Instead, I just sit down at my desk, and in one rather long session, I think out loud and see where things land.
So yes, I am planning on going to China on Saturday. My first time, I’m a bit embarrassed to say. It’s not for a lack of opportunities, but rather a conviction that when I did go, I’d make a study of it, staying for at least two weeks, if not more.
But I’ve realized lately that in the past three decades of my career-related travel, I’ve never gone anywhere for more than one week. I admit, I’ve boxed China out, because I assigned it such import, such gravitas, that I needed to justify the 15-hour flight (and its attendant biome and geospatial shock) with a commitment of time I was never able to make.
In my last post I imagined a world in which large data-driven platforms like Amazon, Google, Spotify, and Uber are compelled to share machine-readable copies of data to their users. There are literally scores, if not hundreds of wrinkles to iron out around how such a system would work, and in a future post I hope to dig into some of those questions. But for now, come with me on a journey into the future, where the wrinkles have been ironed out, and a new marketplace of personally-driven information is flourishing. We’ll return to one of the primary examples I sketched out in the aforementioned post: A battle for the allegiance – and pocketbook – of one online shopper, in this case, my wife Michelle.
At dinner last night with my wife and our 14 year-old daughter, I noticed a circular table of four teenage girls eating alone. They were about the same age as my daughter, who wasn’t exactly thrilled to be stuck with her parents as company on her first weekend of the school year. As we ate, I paid attention to the group’s dynamics, imagining them to be a possible reflection of what my daughter would be doing once she started going out alone with friends in New York City.
The most striking characteristic of the group was how they used their phones. The default position for each of them – their resting state, if you will – was to hold their device at chin level while gazing into the blue grip of its screen. They looked away only to point out something happening on that screen – at no time during an hour or so of observation did any of them put their phones down to simply talk to one another.
I just opened an email on my phone. It was from a fellow I don’t know, inviting me to an event I’d never heard of. Intrigued, I clicked on the fellow’s LinkedIn, which was part of his email signature.
That link opened the LinkedIn app on my phone. In the fellow’s LI feed was another link, this one to a tweet he had mentioned in his feed. The tweet happened to be from a person I know, so I clicked on it, and the Twitter app opened on my phone. I read the tweet, then pressed the back button and….
Once upon a time, I’d read the yearly lists of “best albums” from folks like Rick Webb or Marc Ruxin, and immediately head over to the iTunes store for a music-buying binge. Afterwards, I’d listen happily to my new music for days on end, forging new connections between the bands my pals had suggested and my own life experiences. It usually took three to four full album plays to appreciate the new band and set its meanings inside my head, but once there, I could call those bands up in context and apply them to the right mood or circumstance. Over years of this, I built a web of musical taste that’s pretty intricate, if difficult to outwardly describe.
About two years ago, I started paying for Spotify. Because I’d paid for “all you can eat” music, I never had to pay for a particular band’s work. Ever since, my musical experience has become…far less satisfying.
This post is a book review, but it starts with a story from my past.
Way, way back, before San Francisco begat hip startups with nonsensical names, I found myself on the second floor of a near-abandoned warehouse on South Park, now one of the priciest areas of SF, but then, one of the cheapest. I surveyed the place: well lit in the front, but a shithole in the back. Detritus from years of shifting usage littered the ground – abandoned construction materials lurked in the poorly lit rear recesses, toward the front, where a wall of dusty industrial windows overlooked Second Street, a couch faced outward, and it was in this space I first met Louis Rossetto, founder of Wired and for all I could surmise, Willy Wonka’s twin brother from another mother.
The floorspace around the couch was tidy and inviting, and soon Louis and I were joined by Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor – Yoda without the articulated ears. We bonded that day, and so began an extraordinary journey for me, all of 26 years old: A chance to work, play, and most importantly, engage deeply with all manners of extraordinary characters, all of whom were drawn by Wired’s early message of digital revolution.
Each January for the past 13 years, I’ve been making predictions on this site. Twelve months later, I pull back and review how those predictions have fared. I’ve already got a running list of predictions for 2016, but in this post, I want to handicap how my prognostications for 2015 turned out.
I made a total of 12 predictions in 2015, so I’ll run through each in turn.
1. Uber will begin to consolidate its namesake position in the “The Uber-ization of everything” trend.
Way back in 1985 an unlikely coalition of world governments, business, and enlightened citizens did something extraordinary: Responding to the findings of leading scientists, they united in decisive action to address a looming and existential global climate threat.
That threat was a dangerous thinning of the Earth’s ozone layer due to society’s use of man-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Ozone, it turns out, protects the Earth’s surface from dangerous UVB radiation — which causes skin cancer, cataracts, and all manner of unpleasant ecological chaos.