Alex Payne

Writer, backer, erstwhile technologist.

Two Unfinished Ideas About The Future

This is what I think about when I can’t sleep. I need these out of my head. And, somehow, they’re related.

Radical Transparency

What passes for transparency today is, in practice, mere translucency. Organizations reveal just enough information to avoid appearing closed and monolithic. They may attempt to communicate in a more human way, or provide open access to some of their data, but most remain fundamentally closed. Today’s “transparency” is little more than marketing.

That which is not open is secret. Secrets are vulnerabilities waiting to be exposed. Secrets are the illusion of competitiveness. Secrets are the bondage of serendipity. Secrets are lies of omission that eat away at our social and economic relationships. Their time is over.

The successful organizations of the future, be they states, corporations, communities, or collectives, will be radically open. Radically, unlike anything we’ve seen today. True transparency isn’t about a friendly company blog, or governments being slowly pried open with freedom-of-information initiatives. It’s about structuring society around openness, because openness is the only thing that’s sustainable.

You will see, in time, organizations that put everything on the table. Organizations for which there is no concept of non-public communication from day one; no internal email, nothing that isn’t a matter of public record, by design. Organizations for which every employee’s salary is public knowledge. Organizations that compete solely on the merits of their work, not on surprise, deceit, and manipulation.

People will think these organizations are crazy. And then, over time, radical transparency will become the norm.

Uncomputing

In order to enable the next monumental shift in the tech industry, we’re going to have to give up everything we know. The way we use computers, the way the Internet works, it’s all going to have to change. In fact, it’s all going to have to disappear.

The future of computing will be about the absence of computers as we know them. The step away from the desktop model of interaction will be the first down a long road of abandoning the ideas we’ve come to take for granted. First, the desktop will go. Then, the web. What remains is something wholly unclear, but incredibly valuable. It is the Thing That Comes Next. It’s a new market, and new markets are where the wealth and opportunities are.

Computing for the sake of computing - for entertainment, without a goal - will dissolve as a social practice. Technology will recede into the background of people’s lives; technology as a means to an end, not a means unto itself. Our current technology-obsessed mode is one of deep cultural exploration and experimentation, but it cannot last. It should not.

Something is happening at the fringes of the technology landscape. The related ideas of the Internet of Things and Ubiquitous Computing are one avenue, but perhaps not as humanistic as they need to be in order for this change to take root. Mobile computing also affords an opportunity to leave behind tired ideas of how technology fits into our lives, but the field is in danger of being dominated by dealers of the status quo.

The need for new social structures and new economic models will result in a reconception of information technology. Not just as a rehashing of paper filing systems and abaci and ledger books, but something wholly other. The changes we witness daily - for example, the emphasis on “social computing” of the last several years - blind us to broader possibilities.

Stay open to the idea that the future is unrecognizable. You will come to know it.