Digital Darwinism: How we’re shaping our future

You won't throw up with this game-focused virtual reality headset. It is truly immersive.

My job, life and interests mandate that I spend a lot of time on the “what’s next?” questions. These are always hard to find answers to. However, we can look at our own behavior in the past and present — and examine the evolution of how we use technology and media — to find clues about the future. Call it the theory of Digital Darwinism.

What will the digital economy look like next month, next year, next decade? How will my (and your) media lifestyle evolve? Will we use one main device that we carry and jack in to networks when we go to and from work (as I’ve guessed at before) and when we “lean forward?” Will we be surrounded by screens that melt into the landscape when we want to “lean back?”

Everything around us is becoming location-aware, and helping the machines become smarter. Look around your periphery right now. You are surrounded by “smart technologies” — portable devices with sensors that relay information about who you are, what you’re doing, where you’re eating and what you’re reading. And in your home there are probably some legacy “dumb technologies” that passively receive information (a traditional TV, perhaps); or a static, frozen in place desktop computer that won’t fit in your pocket.

Five years from now we’ll be interacting with a lot more smart machines and fewer dumb ones — because we won’t want to use them anymore they won’t fit into our lives. Technology we don’t need goes away, and we are therefore building our own future based on our preferences.

The move toward intelligence will make everything we do on a daily basis so much easier. Just think back to the paleo-technological past of about seven years ago. Chances are you had a “dumb” phone that could make calls, send text messages (or, as we used to call them “SMS”s), and maybe awkwardly access a web page.

Yes, back then we mostly relied on strangers for directions, picked up a phone book to find numbers, and took a camera home to plug it into a computer. But we don’t need to be nostalgic for that time. Was life better then because we couldn’t access Google maps, search for a phone number, or share a photo on a social network all from our cellphone?

No, and these enhancements have gotten hardwired into our system and into our expectations for technology. I know I wasn’t the only one who felt lost for that brief period there weren’t any decent maps on the iPhone.

The past was not better, at least in terms of technology and media. Yes, they made some great movies in the 70s, but we have better TV now. These days, we want to watch media at home, and that’s why companies invest in producing quality TV. That’s called Digital Darwinism.

I was working remotely when I wrote this very article. I was completely connected to the world of my work through numerous devices and networks. This would have been completely impossible just a few years ago. Back in the the paleo-technological era, not being in the office meant you were off the grid (OK, maybe there was one good thing about the past).

Our future will be shaped by the ways the choices we make as a society intersect with profound technological changes. Much of what is created by scientists and engineers gets repurposed and reshaped by human interaction and how those innovations work within our own personalized experiences. That is Digital Darwinism for media and technology.

Version 1.0 of a product is launched and it fails or succeeds. Consumers provide feedback on its merits and the utility of its individual features. This helps the creators make changes and have Version 2.0 fit more neatly into how we want to use their product. Consciously or not, we’re all participating in this process.

We all make choices about how we want to use devices, media and technology. Guess what? Companies are paying attention, making changes, and helping us to evolve.

We are collectively shaping our future even if we aren’t always conscious of how or why. I don’t know about you, but I’m enjoying being part of this global focus group. I just hope in the future I get to keep my iPhone.

jag picJonathan Gardner is director of communications at Turn, the cloud marketing platform. He has spent his career as an innovator at the nexus of media and technology, having worked in communications and as a journalist.

Photo: Oculus Rift VR by Dean Takahashi