There’s the billion dollar question. While there are no 100-percent guarantees in this ever-changing markets, it appears that the traditional top-down processing will continue to thrive and galvanize the next generation of out-of-the-box thinkers.
This trend was pointed by M.I.T. professor Neil Gershenfeld‘s talk in 2006 at a TED conference. He first mentioned how aid for the growth of technology has followed this pattern and how technology itself will undoubtedly succumb tot he same framework as well.
“The real opportunity is to harness the inventive powers of the world to locally design and produce solutions to local problems,” he said.
The most tangible example of this are the numerous “Fab Labs” that Gershenfeld and his associates have been able to set up around the globe. With just $20,000 worth fabrication equipment entire villages have been able to only empower themselves but to contribute advancements to society as a whole. Such results, which are quite astonishing, reminded me of another TED conference of IDEO founder David Kelley where he mentioned how a colleague from Stanford, Martin Fisher, was able to use his business, ApproTEC, to bolster Kenya’s economy by starting 19,000 companies employed by 30,000 workers — and probably counting. This effort was fueled by the entrepreneurial spirit of a people known only by the rest of the world for their distance running pedigree.
When Gershenfeld said that the way to close the world’s fabrication and instrumentation divide “is not IT for the masses but IT development for the masses,” I was reminded 0f the old maxim: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”
It is instances like this where knowledge really is power. It’s heartwarming to see the technology of tomorrow shared in an equal-opportunity format that could one day greatly bolster the quality of life in third-world countries. Professor Halavais mentioned a favorite maxim of his from computer scientist Alan Kay: “You understand the future by inventing it.” Later Halavais summed this idea up on this own words: “One of the best ways to predict the future is to engaged in creating it.”
While I can respect this notion, at his point in time I have no desire to be part of the possible future that computer scientist Gordon Bell and other “lifeloggers” are helping to create. I am appreciative of the value of personalization, but recording every facet of one’s life seems like the empitome of the acronym TMI (too much information). The web is already oversaturated with oceans full of bits of information, many of which is non sequitur. Lifelogging appears only to exacerbate the problem of an overload of data.
I liked what technology writer Clive Thompson said during an interview on the WNYC radio piece, “On the Media: The persistence of Memory,” when he uttered the following: “There are parts of your life that maybe you shouldn’t remember, and making sense of your life is as much about forgetting the vast majority of it or subtly distorting it as it is perfectly remembering it.”
As a (former) journalist, I loved to know what happened and I loved the search for the real story. I loved knowing that I helped serve as a sort of historian for an event by chronicling what happened. Not everything in life, though, needs to be chronicled. If you go through a horrible break up or attend the funeral of a younger sibling, I’m not sure you would want to capture every moment of those events. Yes, the truth can set you free, but it can also imprison you.
… where to next in the semi-immediate future? It would appear the answer lies somewhere near the further development of mobile Internet devices — or whatever the teenagers in Japan and Scandanavia are into these days. I found the first chapter of Howard Rheingold‘s 2002 book “Smart Mobs” to be rather enlightening. What intrigued me most was the fact that America was so far behind the rest of the digital world in terms of texting and the mobile Internet culture.
Although the origins of texting and mobile Internet are of a bottom-up processing nature, American companies were determined to disseminate it through a top-down means when the technology first was introduced here. “U.S. operators did not bypass their corporate cultures, made text messaging too expensive, failed to bridge barriers that prevented messages from traveling between different operators, and marketed text messaging services to thirtyish executives rather than teenagers,” Rheingold wrote.
A majority of the interviews he conducted took place in 2001, which was one year before I purchased my first cell phone. In 2001, I still managed to go through life without one. Looking back, I really can’t remember that way of live. It was still another couple of years before I started to text with regularity. Now that, too, has become part of the fabric of my everyday life. I’m also amazed at the dichotomy that exists among the older generations of cell phone users. Take my parents for instance. My dad loves to text and send pictures. My mom, on the other hand, has never sent a text in her life and probably does not plan on doing so.
One final thought
In his online lecture, Professor Halavais mentioned the topic of RFID tags and how they will eventually revolutionize how business is conducted.
If anyone would like to delve deeper into this topic, I recommend a stop by the Web site of the RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas. Before heading out east, earlier this year I wrote a profile on the center’s executive director, Bill Hardgrave. He is considered to be one of the top experts on the subject.
In the article (which unfortunately no longer exists online), Hardgrave mentioned that RFID technology will be in most major department stores within the next two to three years. In January of this year, he received a report that all nearly 600 Sam’s Clubs in the country and about 1,000 of the nation’s approximate 4,100 Wal-Mart stores were RFID friendly.
He would know. Wal-Mart, which is based in Northwest Arkansas, is the main reason the center exists in the first place. The center began in 2003 with a $4 million that was earmarked from a $50 million gift to the University of Arkansas from the Walton family. At the time, the only other school that had a university-based facility was at M.I.T., but it was more concerned on RFID innovations (still is). The center in Arkansas was strictly built for applications for the betterment of business.
Hardgrave said that one of the obstacles of putting RFID tags on individual products — and not just paletes — was the that RFID energy is absorbed by both water and metal. That problem should eventually fade away with the invention of electromagnetic ink that at the time of the article was in its testing stages at M.I.T.
“This is a technology that is going to make life as a consumer much better and much easier,” Hardgrave said at the time. “It’s going to help retailers ensure that it’s the product you want, when you want it and where you want it, and it’s going to help you get in and out of the store faster.”