When in Vienna a couple of months ago, I was interviewed for their newspaper Die Presse; that interview was finally published (although sadly/fortunately absent any of the pictures they took of me).
Futurologe: Die Zukunft passt wie angegossen
I suspect that the Austrian dialect of German is rather idiomatic, as the Google Translate version of the piece is especially nonsensical (in ways that you can't blame me for!).
Anyone out there want to give a rough translation a shot?
(Update: We now have one translation from Torsten Meier in the comments, and other from Carmen Tschofen in the extended entry. Between the two of them, you should have a pretty good sense of the interview. Thanks, folks!)
Futurologist: The Future is a tailored fit
The US- futurologist Jamais Cascio detects trends like others as a good business. He spoke with the Press on Sunday about the joy of hacking and designing at the push of a button.
You are someone who believes that the world can be changed positively, without rejecting considerations of the darker side. Do you think people can learn from history?
I fight against the idea that we’re all lost and that we’ll be paralyzed by shock and say ,“Oh, God, there’s nothing anyone can do.” Because: In most cases, one can do something. It is really easy to get caught up in the idea that people are simply dumb and aren’t able to learn. But look at history and how society has changed. Particularly in the West, in the USA, Europe, or countries like Japan: Life has become so much more free, so much richer—not only from a material perspective, but also from a social perspective. We have more options that ever before in history, we have access to more information than ever before. This small device in my pocket has more power than all the computers there were used to send a man to the moon combined. It may not always look like it, and we don’t always learn the right lesson, but we learn above all from our constant mistakes.
Failure was [perhaps] forbidden before?
In depends on the region: Where I come from, in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, where most of the computer executives work, you aren’t viewed as a good company leader as long as you haven’t completely fallen on your face once. Ok, you tried it, you made a great big mistake, everything’s falling apart, and you learn a lot from it, and you don’t make the same mistake again, but instead will create something better. And this approach has been around for a while, particularly in regions with a high degree of innovation and where there’s lots of room from experimentation.
In the USA, creativity is required even in failure. Will the negotiation with “ideas” and “creativity” determine the economy of the future in the post-industrial society?
Yes, and for a whole lot of reasons: one reason is the rapid development of technology and how this technology changes our economy. Creative ideas are the catalyst for this transition [change], in that our whole system is based on innovation. In addition, in the meantime there are already many production mechanisms and processes that increasingly allow the small business, individual businessperson, or small collective to produce their own products that once required large industrial production.
Can you give a specific example?
For example, there are now 3-D printers. You might not have them here now, but these things have been on the market for almost ten years. At first they were primitive machines that only produced strange forms, only good enough to create models. Today, due to new plastics [polymers] that these printers use as ink, it’s possible to create products that are really usable. And they keep getting cheaper. It’s possible that within the next ten years families will have a printer like this at home and will be in the position to create their own special items at the push of a button. And where does one get the design for such things? There will be a lot of new occupations and educational opportunities coming out of this “idea.” One can put the designs online or sell them on iTunes or similar platforms.
Isn’t it true that through technology we’re losing [forgetting] our natural abilities: for example, memorizing [remembering] telephone numbers, finding our way through a city by car, or writing by hand?
I think it was Socrates that complained bitterly that his students learned to read, thus losing that ability for oral recitation of stories. And in a way he was right: the students didn’t learn one thing, but what they got instead was huge. And the same is happening with modern transitions [changes]: We give up something, but in exchange the technology gives us the opportunity to do more, to experience more, to learn more and to connect us better than ever before in history.
Would you say that technology inspires our creativity? Anyone can film and edit a movie, everyone can create animations or produce music.
There have always been very many people out there who had talent and ideas, but simply didn’t have the money and the chance to express these ideas. In that this ability to express [yourself] creatively, at this level [amount], with these options, becomes democratized, the pile of complete shit that’s being produced grew. Every day millions of videos are uploaded to YouTube, and 99 percent are crap. But that also means that we have a growing number of products that are quite good. And again here a completely new industry is created, focusing on information filtering and methods that help users to find what they’re really looking for. That can be new software, but it can also be people, who can sort and rate the Net [information] on what’s good and what can be ignored.
This trend can be linked to personalization: Do we feel so lost in the mass society that we want to make [put] our mark on every item [product]?
Three hundred years ago nearly everything was “personalized” because almost everything was made by hand—it even had a personal signature. Through most of the history of civilization products were totally personalized, meaning this type of production was slow and difficult. And then came the industrial revolution, and suddenly one could mass produce things. That was in some sense a wrong path in history, made possible by technology but one that wasn’t very humane. However, the profits were so large that it was impossible to give up this new type of production—and yet today technological development is going exactly in the direction of individualized work. And now it’s possible to offer the masses both individualized production processes as well as personalized products. It is a so-called democratization of personalization. In addition there is a whole new generation of people who have the desire and the ability, not just to passively consume things, but rather to work actively with products – to tinker, to hack the products and manipulate them. In the USA this is called the Maker Movement, with the motto: If I can’t take it apart, I don’t want it. For example, they don’t particularly like the iPhone, because it [isn’t open]. They want access to the source code or to be able to add new hardware features.
So the new generation doesn’t only want to be presented with finished products?
That is a very important and significant idea that will change a lot in the economy, because it means nothing less that a new conceptualization of the relationship between producer and consumer. It’s about a fundamentally different positioning: One doesn’t just want to be the consumer anymore, but rather an active co-producer. And when coupled with the opportunities, with the current changes in the economy, we will – I’d say in about 20 to 25 years—live in a world, in which pretty much every object we will use, from various products to computers, cars, advertisements, will be “personalized.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that your name will be on it, but it could be a chair that is able to fit itself exactly to your rear end.
If everything is being made at home, who pays for what and why?
This transition will be fundamental for the economy; industrial capitalism as we know it won’t exist much longer. And just because profit and efficiency were the only factors up until now on which everything was based, it doesn’t mean that it will stay that way. One possible accomplishment of this new creative world of the future could be, that uncontrolled growth will no longer be the requirement [assumption] for the system. When we can produce things at home, the pressure to earn money also drops.
Next week: Mass customization: how personalized design works