Next Big Thing Sign

The Next Big Thing

I occasionally actually overhear conversations about the next big thing all around the bay area. After all, this is the epicenter of the tech industry. In this post, I’m going to let you in on what I think “the next big thing” is going to be!

Reflecting on the Recent Past

Aaron Swartz
Aaron Swartz

Back in 2003 – 2004 I discovered the most amazing technology one could imagine: the RSS feed. It was free—open sourced for everyone to use. This simple, yet perhaps obscure technology fuels the web. RSS feeds, written in xml, are beautifully simple and profoundly powerful! As I understand it, a brilliant teenager, the late Aaron Swartz, a little bit more on him later, helped develop the RSS standard.

RSS Feed SymbolWhen I stumbled onto the xml standard for RSS, I was thinking about teachers blogging in our school and parents and students all subscribing to that blog content through the RSS feeds of their teachers’ (and principal, and counselors, and school nurse, and cafeteria manager…) blogs. This was free syndication of content. Everything we did at the school could be shared with the whole world. This was huge. This was transformative.

And, with RSS, you could share basically anything digital: video, audio content, PDFs. People could use iTunes to subscribe to our digital school, and everything we were doing there could be automatically downloaded onto iPods, and later, iPhones. Talk about the next big thing! This was huge!

I had personally subscribed to a number of podcast feeds and blog feeds and began ingesting a massive amount of digital content. The potential for this technology was mind bending.

I saw, and still see, how this could all work so well for public education. I envisioned whole states leveraging this for educational content, curriculum development and distribution, district communication, school transparency, sharing student work, educational support networks, and on and on and on. Instead, our states, at the profound urging of the federal government, are wasting a tremendously significant percentage of their limited, precious financial resources on meaningless testing and data warehousing that does next to nothing to improve the educational outcomes for students!

Monopoly ManCapitalization

RSS is free technology.

And that became a problem.

Free.

There has always been, swirling around the geek movement, this whole notion of open source, free and fair use. Aaron Swartz was very much a part of this civic-minded way of thinking, and many believe that’s what significantly contributed to his untimely and senseless death.

The question quickly became: how could people make money off of this now ubiquitous (think Google Reader), free, next big thing. Facebook and Twitter are classic examples of the capitalization of the RSS feed. You join their club and then get to subscribe to their collection of RSS feeds. (They just call them your friends.) Joining, of course is free, they just collect and sell massive amounts of information about you—things you don’t even know about yourself! (Do you know your reading level? What grade level you write at? When you are most active online? …)

Some think Google got out of the RSS aggregator business because Facebook won the legal right to own the RSS feeds of all of their members. (No, you don’t own you Facebook account. You knew that, right?!)

Damn. I had never given any thought to how this could be capitalized! I worked in a non-profit sector: human potential. Public Education. We specialize in taking the blame for everything while, at the same time, taking care of people, trying to actually help them reach their highest potential. I don’t know of any other sector of society that does that! None!

iPhoneAnother Next Big Thing

The iPhone and the iPad (I consider them one and the same basically.) were next big things. This technology is nothing more than pictures under glass that moved the user interface forward from the long standing, mouse-based graphic user interface invented by Xerox at PARK. The internet in your pocket. A camera in your pocket everywhere you go. A whole computer in your pocket.

But, beyond that, I’m having a hard time envisioning that which was destined to fundamentally enhance and change the human experience in the past 10 years or so. (I’m sure there are a few things. They just aren’t rushing to mind.)

Basically, Apple has capitalized on incremental change ever since. Their marketing campaigns have been brilliant, always touting the next big thing, when in fact, they are making slight iterative change, not really the next big thing. The next big change has become equated with the brilliant Jon Ive talking in his delightful accent about built from the ground up to be thinner, lighter, more invisible… Blah, blah, blah.

Next Big Thing SignWhat’s Going to Be the Next Big Thing?!

The next big thing isn’t going to be wearable tech—in my mind, that’s just iterative change. It’s not going to be the fully automated/digitized/phone-controlled home. It’s not going to be the reinvention of TV for the digital age.

I’ll tell you what I think it will be: the tech backlash.

People no longer trust corporations, tech or otherwise. Corporations have shipped our manufacturing jobs overseas in search of greater margins. They shipped our knowledge-based jobs overseas in search of greater margins. And, with the later, they use technology to accomplish it.

The government is owned by corporations, not we the people. And, worst of all, the government, busy maximizing the profit margins for the billion dollar owners of the corporations, is even busier spying on everyone in this nation and governments around the world. Oh, and they use technology to do it: your cell phone, your car, your computer, your new wearable tech, the cameras on every pole and in every corner.

The government itself is more opaque than ever. Unlimited “detention” without any charges at all? High tech drones fly over our cities now? (Some actually claim the drone industry will be the next big thing. But, shhh. Keep that quiet.)

No, the next big thing is the tech backlash. People are beginning to think twice before upgrading to the tiny iterative change, which now might even be a significant step backward from what you already have. (I’ve blogged about that before, and now Apple is considering moving their computers to the ARM chips?! Another significant step backward!)

Will the new versions of the iPhone have the kill switch so citizens can be silenced from taking photos, shooting video, tweeting, Facebooking or live blogging some wide spread protest, demonstration, or act of civil disobedience? Be assured the transglobal corporate owned news media will not report it. (And the marketing departments will focus on, “If your phone gets stolen, you can kill it!)

(Another aside: Have you heard about the global massive investments China is making all over the earth? I’ve only heard about it from friends who travel the world and have seen it firsthand. We aren’t going to hear about it. Where are they getting the investment capital? Hmmm?? How many millionaires is China adding to their economy every year? Hmmm? It’s staggering! Our nation is cannibalized by unfettered capitalism, and China is now booming because of it.)

Can a domestic drone strike be silenced by this technology? Can a huge oil spill somewhere in the country be kept out of public awareness with this technology? Does the existing phone have it? Is it hardware or software (iOS) based? Does it require both?

And you trust those computerized voting booths?

Balancing Democracy and Unfettered Capitalism

Democracy is about people, and I don’t mean spying on people to control and manipulate them. Democracy is about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I personally no longer see technology delivering on those fronts. The great democratization promised by technology has been utterly thwarted by corporate, capitalized interests. Technology now invisibly divides, isolates, and amuses the masses into the stupor of selfies.

I’ll continue to use technology. I love it. I can’t imagine my life without it. But I’ve come to see its dark side, and I hate it as much as I love it. What will be my balance? I don’t know. Yet.

But I’m paying careful attention to the tech backlash, because I think it will be the next big thing.

One thought on “The Next Big Thing”

  1. I agree. Everything seems to be somehow falling apart through exploitation, commercialization or weaponization. The Churches themselves have destroyed spirituality and now science seems to be opening up momentous technologies to a world without a moral compass. The NBT will probably be a molecular medicine whose cost may well restrict it to benefit only the few. The social issues will dance in thunder! I think Kipling toyed with this idea nearly a century ago with his short story “The Eye of Allah.”

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