• make a map of internet dreams

The Future, Past, and Present

A lot of the future of computing work is focused, as the title suggests, on the future. It focuses on how we can augment our capability, replace our inefficiencies, empower us to do more than we can now. Although not often made explicit, it is easy for projects in this wide berth to bear the flag of Abandon your primitive ways and join us in the better, shinier future of computers. The future is coming with or without you. Those who succumb to social media addiction are either pitied or ridiculed as having no free will. We talk about end-user programming, but often products have in mind a very advanced, 1st-world-country-dwelling, productive member of capitalistic society end-user rather than anyone in the world.

If we look at the past, the forefathers of the internet were hopeful for a world where computers not only augmented our intelligence significantly (As We May Think, memes, and personal computers), but also were a connective tissue for enabling entirely new modes of thinking by allowing people to do it together in a new shared environment (collaborative software, web pages, etc.). The philosophers and cultural instigators took the Internet as an opportunity to declare freedom from the oppression of the real world (Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace) and to create safe havens for the weirdos, amateurs, and hobbyists (source?). They imagined and hoped for a possibility that computers could become the next transformative technology for not only the way we produced value but also the way we created, expressed ourselves, and related to one another. In the internet forums and social networks that were developed from this origin, we found many of each flavor of hope. The way to work changed, along with entire occupations going extinct, transforming, and evolving. But we also saw a lot more connection between people who would have never talked to each other. As anonymous usernames through a screen, the internet fulfilled dreams of becoming a space for people who didn’t feel comfortable, for whatever reason, in the real world to connect with others. Of course, sometimes this became very negative in the case of cyberbullying and abuse, but it reflected the extremes of humanity. The internet became a new container for humanity. So along with the bad, came all the infinite possibilities of good.

In the present, we face a crossroads. We feel that the internet, as we know it, is broken at some fundamental level, yet we also can’t live without it. Technological literacy is becoming more and more universal, yet software becomes more fragmented, easy to break, and indecipherable every day. It’s like we’re raising the sea levels even as we teach people how to swim. Each day, the waves get tougher, and taken from a relative perspective, it seems that not much has changed.