A production of our reality

I recently finished reading a few interviews with Ai Weiwei in which he spoke at length about his artistic process as well as many parts of his life's story. The book "Ai Weiwei speaks with Hans Ulrich Obrist" is a fascinating look inside the mind of the polarizing Chinese artist. There were a few comments that I thought were great but one really stuck out to me. The two were talking about a particularly large architecture project he was curating and how many architects were actually involved in the process and Weiwei stated "Architecture is a production of our reailty". This comment really got me thinking and kept circling around in my mind and I began wondering if it could be applied to other types of architecture as well, especially in the digital realm. If physical architecture is a manifestation of who we are and where we live in the real world then digital architecture is an abstract and digital example of who we are, how we look at ourselves, and how we identify with this day and age in the digital form. It is our current evidence that we are alive. 

For better or for worse, software is our mirror. It is how we are currently addressing society and, in turn, we are seeing how society is reacting to it. I find this beautiful and frightening all at the same time. It is beautiful since we build software to use as tools to push our society forward. It has helped us collect, understand, and interpret the data we are building all around us in an effort to make our lives easier. And our lives are much easier than they were even 10 years ago. This is still truly astounding to me. 

But what sometimes frightens me about it is the amount of control we have given to it and how much it consumes our daily lives. It's almost impossible to go a day without interacting with some form of software. One perfect example is our phones. Smart phones are now nothing more than an extension of our bodies. How many times have you left the house without your phone and suddenly feel as though you are missing a part of yourself? I am sure there are many people who do feel that way if that happens. For me, I started leaving it home on purpose and I honestly feel a bit of relief. But that is just me.

I do believe that software should be an extension of our own minds and help us fill in the blanks when answers are needed faster than we can come up with them. Therefore I see it as a great tool to be used carefully. It should help us extend our talents and push our strengths. Software is truly beautiful because it can do that. But there is a fear that we are letting it take over too much of our lives. While I agree that software is eating the world, and that is a snowball that will most likely never be stopped (nor should it be), we do need to take a step back and understand when we should push back to keep it from eating us. 

Random Thoughts

Here are some random ideas and thoughts I wanted to get out there in the world.

  • It’s important to never lost your head to a vague or open ended dream. It is import to plan to the end. In other words, focus is one of the most important ideas anyone can apply to any and all aspects of their life. When Bill Gates was asked what the single most important factor in his journey through life was, his answer was “focus”.
  • It is critical to form a concrete idea of the what the goals are you want to reach. What are you going to do once you reach those goals? This could go back to the first idea up and applying focus to your life.
  • How do you model the world around you? Each and everyone one of us lives within our own models of the world. And those models are what we apply to how we live our lives day in and day out. Train yourself to step back and try to see the larger things and ideas taking shape beyond your immediate vision. Trying to analyze the world on a macro level can be a mind opener and many times it isn’t very comfortable. There may be many ways we think that the world works and maybe it doesn’t. But it is a great way to start understanding how people think. And understanding how people think will show the stuff that isn’t so different.
  • Change can be super uncomfortable for a lot of people so it’s important to understand why that change makes people feel that way. I’ve worked for a tech startup now for a little over three years and I have had first hand experience as to how fast this industry is changing the world around us. Technology may be making the world a better place to live but it is also displacing a lot of people from jobs and the security they once knew. That is an idea that may be hard for someone isolated in a silo to understand.
  • Speaking of startups, there were quite a few companies created over the past few years whose goal was to be the main platform (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube) for content to go. Now that these companies are the new norm, perhaps we will really start seeing more businesses that are built around creating better content to be put up on these platforms. Vice and Buzzfeed are good examples of what that type of content may look like for now, but I am sure it will change over the years. Especially since the content will become more and more targeted (which I will get to next).
  • Targeting is going to get crazy scary or crazy exciting over the next few years. Contextual applications will become the new norm and we will get sucked into using them. Why? Because they offer a convenience that was almost unheard of just five years ago. For example, an application built around context will be able to learn about you and understand your needs. Advertisements will be targeted even more specifically. Not only will advertisers and companies know what demographic you belong in, but they will know where you have been and at what time you were there (GPS in real-time), what you are saying and how you say it (Natural Language Processing), buying recommendations (machine learning) and who you are with (Facebook check-ins, Foursquare). For some this is a truly exciting time to be living in. For other, it may just be downright scary and bit to intrusive. Hopefully there will be a lot more “opt-ins” than “opt-outs”. Robert Scoble has a great book on the subject that I suggest everyone should read. It explains a in depth over view of where technology is going.
  • According to the book Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital byCarlota Perez, we are out of the “installation” phase and now in the “deployment” phase of the information age. Deployment is where all the technological building has been finished and after a rather bad financial collapse, the technology begins to take over and change most every aspect of our lives. If you look around, this seems to be true. Technology is changing our behavior in ways that we haven’t even begun to understand yet. Also, that was a very simplified version of her main thesis. Chris Dixon has a nice essay that goes into more detail. If you have never read the book before I recommend reading it. It can be rather dry if straight economics isn’t your thing but it is incredibly mind opening and even helps explain a lot about what is happening with the economy right now.
  • There is still a lot more change a foot as well since there are more industries that are still ripe for change. The two biggest industries ripe for change are finance and manufacturing. Finance will be a tough nut to crack because of its resistant to change. However, since Bitcoin was created by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009, that line of thought has since changed. I haven’t seen so much excitement around a piece of technology since the late ‘90's when I first discovered how to surf the information super highway (couldn’t resist). So what is so exciting about it? I will save a super thorough explanation for another essay but for now I will just say that Bitcoin is a way to store and share value through the internet without the need for a third party. The other industry that is ripe for change will be manufacturing and this could be done by 3D printing. These printers are pretty damn cool but they are mainly used by bigger manufacturers and shops that can afford them. So once 3D printers are priced at a level that is affordable to anyone, the more people will understand them and use them for whatever they need. I think they will be great for businesses that need quick turnaround on parts that may be hard to come by. Instead of waiting days or even weeks for an order to arrive, they will be able to print it right there in the shop and have a much quick turn around time. I haven’t used one myself yet, but I look forward to when I can because they look like a lot of fun.
  • Finally, “Be Nice to People”. This is a truism not only because it is simple but because it is the right thing to do. Be nice to people. Prominent V.C. and blogger Fred Wilson wrote up a nice post about it, so you should check it out.