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More Days of Glass: Why “Future Vision” Concepts Like These Are Useless at Best (and Misleading at Worst)

the one and twenty

the one and twenty

In my blogpost “A Day Made of Glass: Say Hello to the Eloi!” about Corning Inc.’s vision for the future, I took care to explain why I found their video more than problematic without calling Corning’s intentions or capabilities to build a better future into question.

Now, more such “Future Vision” concept videos have hit us in recent weeks, but this time from Microsoft and RIM—two corporations that started out real strong but have become widely known for the worst lack of visionary leadership across the industry with the possible exception of HP.

Let’s check out Microsoft’s vision first:

Microsoft—Productivity Future Vision (2011)

To start with, it’s yet another future for the digital-age Eloi. Is it so hard to sketch a vision of the future where innovative technologies work for real people? Give me just 1 % out of the 99 % to show up in such a vision, and we can sit down and start imagining. Furthermore, how “visionary” exactly are these technologies? Hint: not much. All that stuff can be easily extrapolated from technologies we already have. Some of which we even hold in our hands right now! But, not from Microsoft.

Moreover, it’s sloppy and lazy. Josh Farmer from Opinionated Type noticed a few things (no longer online, but here’s the original link from Daring Fireball). Among them:

  • There is no difference between a tap that selects, records, enters a chat, or backtracks. And no one is confused about this.
  • The future is filled with iPad- and iPhone-type devices, down to the details—rounded corners, good and neutral typography, gadget dimensions, etc.

And especially:

  • Some of that stuff is cool and even helpful. Now make it. Better yet, make it first and then tell me it’s available.

Also, everything is bright, shiny, and squeaky clean—a style of sf storytelling that might have been convincing if none of us had ever seen Star Wars and Alien, for starters.

As John Pavlus puts it:

These spit-polished masterpieces of magical thinking are the tech-elite version of LOLcat videos. They make you feel warm and fuzzy for a minute or two and…that’s about it. [W]ould it be so hard to create one that felt the least bit authentic? The interfaces of a decade from now are going to be part of a world that looks a lot like the one we live in now. There will still be messy kitchens, non-angelic children, litter in public places, and jobs that don’t involve giving glamorous presentations to ambiguously ethnic business partners. […]

What “future of” tech/design videos need is a little less Minority Report and a little more Alien. Director Ridley Scott famously told his production designers to make Alien’s spaceship and costumes look roughed-up, slightly messy, and above all, lived in. Otherwise, it just isn’t believable enough to see yourself in—which is a design problem that both horror movies and corporate promos need to solve.

Now, let’s proceed to RIM’s “BlackBerry Future Vision.” It’s not one, but actually two videos that—oh wait! The links are all dead. Both clip’s been yanked from YouTube, Vimeo, and every site I can think of “due to a copyright claim by Research in Motion Limited.” Apparently, it’s a future vision RIM doesn’t like to share with us. We’re not the Eloi.

ADDENDUM: At last, I found one of ’em alive! Doesn’t exactly look like RIM’s official YouTube channel (how much of your money would you bet they have such a thing?), so it might be down by the time you read this:

BlackBerry—Enterprising Minds

It’s on and off, I switched links three times now, maybe it’s still alive when you read this but if not, nothing much is lost. As Gruber wraps it up:

Like Microsoft, but with worse music, far less clever ideas, and more neckties.

But there’s more at stake here, beyond the fact that neither Microsoft nor RIM are able to tell compelling and believable stories about the future, to let their imagination run wild and show us how the future could look like with innovative technologies for real people. (Never mind that—at this point in time—both companies are singularly incapable of delivering such innovative technologies in the first place.)

No, the issue’s rather that, in their eyes, none of these innovative technologies seem to be in any way disruptive. And if we have learned anything in the past 15 years, it’s that these new technologies are immensely disruptive, for people as well as for companies, for whole industries and even countries, and that we’re not only living in a period of accelerating technological progress, but in a period where even this acceleration accelerates. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but everybody who thinks that really innovative technology will just fit in smoothly and make companies as well as people more sexy, more happy, and more productive hasn’t been paying attention lately. Technology, excuse my French, is kicking our collective ass with a silicon-coated cast iron horseshoe, and we all should be constantly aware of this lest we be brushed aside, trampled over, and tastefully disposed of by intelligent autonomous clean-up systems.


If you have something valuable to add or some interesting point to discuss, I’ll be looking forward to meeting you at Mastodon!

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