Research now shows that the human brain is adapting to store information in terms of accessibility rather than actual content. That is to say, it is now a lookup table that informs you of the source or location of the information rather than content itself. Imagine that! Our brains rewired to take advantage of our dependency on the internet.
And why not? Science fiction has long professed the existence of a singular human consciousness: a repository of all human knowledge and experience, over which individuals are merely nodes or access points, much like an ant colony. Perhaps that’s a tad too dramatic a prospect to be concerned about, given the current state of the internet: with its cat videos, wrongly attributed quotes, recycled literature, and ugly compartmentalized services with cryptic URLs. But maybe we are heading towards this or a less scary version of this inevitability.
Clearly, Googling for information you don’t have,
checking for reviews before making purchases,
summoning delivered services, and
getting directions to places
have become an inseparable part of our lives, businesses, and culture now.
To know how far we have got, we must look to what is being done right. Let’s review a few of the things the internet has got spot on!
Maps, Navigation and Location based Services: Location, Location, Location
While companies like Where 2 (founded by the Jens and Lars Rasmussen, who later made several contributions in Google and Facebook) reinforce my believe that pure technology companies offer that next-10x-improvement magic ingredient that just make things better, those are not always the kind of companies that make the technews. Given a fast, reliable, real-time, and ubiquitous location platform, there are plenty of interesting and fun services that can go on top of it. There is a lot going for this area and plenty to discuss, everything from the business models to devices and delivery, apart from the back-end stuff of accuracy, reliability, privacy & security, and algorithms.
navigation: Why cant we have a display on the wind-shield yet?
The important thing to keep in mind here is that synchronized satellites that orbit our planet are able to triangulate the position of my phone on the face of the earth, and a crazy company is willing to project that location onto a map that they tediously annotate and update, and render it back in my phone, so my life is better. Yes! I think this one we got spot on.
Reviews, Shopping and Social Media
A lot of internet browsing is about finding interesting content on the web, sharing and discussing it with friends. Almost every sharing platform offers this service with various extensions or customizations but rarely without receiving denigration. We are content creators, moderators, consumers all at the same time. I could not imagine a time when internet wasn’t personal. Our ability to rate experiences in a scale of 1-5 is just the kind of reduction that makes the internet a handy tool to have. Amazon.com was one of the first to use item to item collaborative filtering to recommend books based on similar customer preferences. We have since come a long way, integrating reviews to our credibility, our understanding of the area etc. A rating tells a company more about you than you are saying about them.
This article has been about what the internet got right. What we got right with the internet. It’s tempting to think of what we will achieve with this in the future. I don’t know. Here are some stuff that I know are around the corner. Expect a huge improvement in the way we use currency, banks and financial services. MOOCs have come a long way since the early videos of professors with projectors and videolecture.net. Still engagement numbers are low and dropouts and extremely high. Top quality education will continue to be available for consumption for all of us.
This one is a bit debatable. Maybe it’s a more personal pain point, I wish was solved sooner. It is still hard for people in remote locations to collaborate effortlessly on common projects. There are some important technologies here VOIP, repositories, versioning tools, and such. How can I reach out say, to a palaeontologist who might think my sketches based on fossils for Brontosaurus are interesting and plausible? I don’t know yet.
Another area that is close to my heart and one that will significantly improve for an end-user is the ability to consume, infer, and work with images. I am not talking about cool filters here, but an array of millions of filters (interestingly!) that will infer your likes, dislikes, your fashion sense, your ability to drive, your health, the calories in your food, maybe even whether you are too drunk to drive back home. The magic of deep-learning will be the acceleration that the camera will need to forever put to rest the sensor race on your mobile phone and stake the claim of being the king of the mobile sensors, just ahead of the GPS. If some research is to be believed, even making the fingerprint scanner an unnecessary redundancy.
I would like to see a seamless integration of this collective human knowledge into our day-to-day lives: within conversations, meetings and the ideating processes. Products and services that bridge that last mile gap between the internets of opinions to the product purchasing process are, I believe, still lacking. Perhaps stronger location-based services is one answer, but that is looking at our lives through the prism of mobility. Technologists seem to be absolutely convinced that mobility is that last mile solution that will integrate internet to our living being. There is of course a lot of evidence to back that but as people lift their heads and realize that they don’t have to be wearing the internet all the time, maybe other design choices need to be explored. Devices that are as good with person recognition as they are with location, can allow for personalization and user-stitched experiences.
I can’t help but find an analogy to the ancient cities of the world. All built around a river, a flowing entity that every citizen took a dip in at various walks of life. So too is the internet that is flowing all about us. Connect us, and help with our lives, and our relationships.
There will come a time, that our lives will be truly one with the network. Then the phrases I hope sound less like: did you Google this, or did you see that URL I sent you via beep chat, and more like: have you lived… are you awake…. isn’t this great weather.
An internet that is integrated into rather than onto our lives. Making it more meaningful, productive, and fun.
Maybe then a day, where long distance will not be too painful.