Sunday, December 19, 2010

Our future is shaping the way we live, work

The future is what we make of it and what it makes of us.

I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted 
I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works. Nick Bilton. Crown Business. 304 pages.

Toward the end of Nick Bilton's stimulating and provocative new book, he quotes the visionary science fiction author of Neuromancer, William Gibson: "The future is already here — it is just distributed unevenly,'' and that's about right. Some of us readily embrace new technology and are early adopters. Others move more cautiously, either clinging to whatever older technology they came up with, or treading carefully with the new stuff, though only when forced to do so by bosses and/or clients.

It's pretty clear that we're still in the midst of a metamorphosis that's transforming the ways we live, play and work. Bilton, a talented journalist, is the lead writer for the New York Times "Bits'' blog, a cool position that barely existed a few years ago. He also toiled in the Times' R&D Lab, which sounds like a fun gig, testing different technologies as the Gray Lady tries to stave off its extinction.

Bilton is a good writer and an inquisitive reporter. His book is sort of a quick survey of the changes in technology and its effects on the human interface. His palpable fascination with the digital landscape makes this an enjoyable and breezy read, despite the fact that some of the stops along the way are pretty serious indeed.

But not all of them are. For example, he takes a look at the porn industry, long a leader in finding new ways to extract revenue from customers, and sees how they were hit (just like every other content provider) with unsanctioned downloading and ``free'' content, and how they adjusted.

Unlike the doofusses who run the music business, some of the pornsters were smart and learned how to leverage this behavior rather than try to stifle innovation and sue their own customers. The music biz has yet to figure this out, though musicians, fortunately, seem to have done so and are in the process of finally freeing themselves from the onerous shackles of their evil record company overlords.

In addition to porn, the author looks at the ways online communities form, how we communicate differently as media changes, how our brains change (and actually grow) as we use various technologies, and more. Bilton fearlessly jumps into the middle of the spate of arguments for and against the efficacy of multitasking, concluding that it may not be the best way to work for everyone, but for some (especially the young people who grew up doing it almost 24/7), it's no big deal.

There are also little nuggets studded throughout the text; how you can identify a good surgeon by his affection for video games, Twitter in Iran, how the Web-fueled "me-centered'' business model will soon be the rule and not the exception, and more.

Bilton doesn't know everything, nor does he know where everything is headed, but he boasts an excellent sense of culture, context and technology. We can cry about wanting things to be as they were, but we really need to use our heads and hearts to learn how to deal with what we have, and get ready for what comes next.

Hasn't the future always been like that?

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