How We Should Learn To Predict
Carl Sagan wasn’t only one of the most educated individuals of his time, but he seemed to harness the power of prophetic foresight that could easily be equated to Nostradamus. He saw the fire before the match even hit the striker strip. As to avoid delving into pessimism, we won’t go into detail about his pre-apocalyptic predictions about the modernisation of trends pertaining to media, power and business, but rather, we are going to examine the validity of guessing what happens next, even without having attained four degrees in the most complicated corners of astrophysics known to man.
As we continue on in the present, we see more clearly that the future is now. From the ability to customize our children on a molecular-genetic level, to painting on a canvas as big as the side of a building with simple eye-tracking, the progress of our inventions seems to keep speeding up in our timeline as if we can’t keep up with the technological advances that we’ve invited into our homes. So what does this mean for our clairvoyance? Disaster is quite a sight to see, and can be spotted miles and years before it happens. This isn’t what is terrifying, nor what needs to be addressed.
Sagan wrote his book The Demon Haunted World about the dumbing down of our American civilization through the device of media consumption, catering to the lowest common denominator, and embracing the degradation of our attention span. He made this prediction in 1995, and 25 years later we’re seeing the circumstance he prophesied in mirrored fashion. Transparency in messaging, language, vernacular, and the technology in which all three live in is skewed with ulterior motives and fine print. We hear day in and day out about the perils of companies’ practices and poisonous products.
On the flip side, many of us simply don’t care about anything other than convenience and savings. Regardless of either point of view, we’re progressing into a more efficient machine, all working in unison as mechanisms, developing futures for ourselves that are approaching at exponential rates. The algorithms we embrace in our technology are being relied on for life changing decisions, questions answered in binary code, relayed to us in the middle of the night because “they” know we’ll answer, tap, read, watch, listen, and consume. Users are more knowledgeable about the inner workings of the facade which make this future-now design, embracing it to the point where it’s simply integrated itself as a part of the human experience.
We are indeed living in a time where natural inclinations are being determined by algorithmic flux; floating from device to device, dependability on our human qualities is being harvested, and replaced by technology under the guise of “best interests.” None of this can be gauged as “good” or “bad,” because these machines are indifferent to their use, as we’re becoming indifferent to their invasion. Life is becoming easier while free-thought is becoming programmed, complicated by the innate urge to keep consuming until we find the end meaning; or just the end.
The gallows of an iPhone is raised with every glance away from its screen. We’re embracing the capitalistic cravings of ownership, a new field to pick through, as we, the architects of humanity in the digital space, are responsible for this incline that focuses us on the drive forward. We’ve defined ourselves with simple keywords and phrases, burying ourselves in metadata and SEO configuration so we can be found, heard and acknowledged. It is our responsibility to embrace ourselves as humans who have created this existence; not to be lodged into categories for consumer outreach.
To contradict the tone of this piece, we are creating some of the most useful tools for nostalgia. We’re animating our ancestors with apps, bringing them to life on the screen. We’re photographing every moment, and trapping every memory and sharing every emotion. We’re sharing information to the nth degree, sharing ourselves, sharing our love, sharing our hate, sharing our children, our parents, ourselves. The pertinent predictions from our time are shifting, telling us not what is to become of technological progress, but rather, what is to become of ourselves. As we learn, we’re being shown what we don’t know more and more with every upload into this universe. The real question now is what do we decide, as a collective, is to be tolerated, shared, or stored away in an abandoned server field forever? Technology has made itself easy to predict because it predicts us.
As designers, we must now shore up our efforts to challenge ourselves by creating experiences that challenge the user’s intellect, learnability and levels of preferred convenience, knowing well that the learning curve might snap when it’s bent too far. However, to continue on the path which retracts the user’s desire to learn and instead admonishes them from experiences which are less than convenient, we are enabling those who have faced challenges, and ultimately those few who will own them in totality. If you have ever thought about the future, the world covered in parking lot concrete with fast food and cheap clothing as far as the eye can see, you’re not far off. Only it’s taken a different form, and this parking lot lives in the ether. We, as the designers of the digital space, must embrace the art that challenges our view, and have faith that the user will thank us in the end.