Rewind to ten years ago.
In 2002, the iPod had just hit the market the previous year. Netflix hadn’t had their first profitable year yet. It was still 2 years until Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, GMail, or Orkut were officially introduced. The next year came YouTube, and the following year came Twitter. Wordpress wasn’t born until 2003. jQuery was still 4 years from being announced. Blackberry wasn’t released in the US until the next year.
Windows XP was only a year old, and at the beginning of 2002, IE5 still held about 50% of the browser market. What would later become Firefox was released; Safari still didn’t exist.
There are plenty of other interesting and fairly surprising facts about how much the world has changed in ten years. Without going into detail, think 20 years back. You know, when cordless phones in your house were a big deal.
What an incredible leap forward! And yet, we can see these types of advancements throughout history. In less than 70 years, humans went from not being able to fly whatsoever, to flying to the moon — and walking on it.
The creative technologists are the ones who could see it coming.
The truth of the matter is, we now can barely imagine a world without social media. We can’t imagine searching a library for a quote. It seems crazy to think that any major corporation wouldn’t be found on Google. But let’s think about how these ideas sounded ten years ago.
“Within seconds, you and almost a billion others will be connected to your entire social sphere. You’ll have unlimited space to share photos. Oh, and it will be free.”
“You will be able to look down at a phone (that is touchscreen, by the way) and know exactly where you are. Places nearby will be digitally indexed and at your fingertips, and you’ll be able to connect to the entire internet in seconds.”
“Mobile, handheld HD Video and picture sharing will be commonplace. Video phones will begin to take over the market. Anyone will be able to publish content to the web with little to no knowledge of web technology.”
“Your music, photos, videos, contacts, documents, and anything else you want will be available at any time by a persistent server grid that is potentially hundreds or thousands of miles away from you called ‘the cloud’.”
These statements would sound lofty if you think about what didn’t exist in 2002, in the same way that “going to the moon” likely sounded impossible to the Wright brothers. But indeed, all of these things came true. The creative mind can imagine these things, however, without constraining to existing technology or even projections or timeline parabolas explaining the course technology might take. Imagining a progression of technology is nearly impossible to do, as technology is largely based on discovery and experimentation; discovery and experimentation are close relatives to creative thinking.
So what should we imagine today? It’s almost certain that what we think can happen will be far surpassed. Will the internet become traversable by consciousness? Will governments divorce spatial boundaries and instead create “The State of Facebook”? Will Facebook and Twitter be gone? Or will they overgrow? Will ubiquitous computing become an abundant reality? Will robotics advance into a state of semi-autonomy?
I’m not suggesting we get lost in thought about a robotic army or try to figure out what is going to happen next in the grand scheme of the Internet.
But what we do need to do, as the designers of the future and creative innovators, is allow our minds to open up to possibilities that we once may have thought were inconceivable, impossibly unprofitable, or just plain bad ideas. Truly removing the boundaries we place on our thoughts might open us up to the risk of a bad idea — but it’s also the only way we can really empower our creativity and surpass technological boundaries with vision.