The future is bland

Sunday, 30 May 2004

Hindsights are often remarkable in a profoundly mundane way. That is what I had to think after reading the newsletter I just got from my freemail provider. The sentence that piqued my memory is part of an article singing praises to the conveniences of WLAN:

Beim Frühstück am Küchentisch die aktuellsten Nachrichten online lesen, statt die Tageszeitung zu zerfleddern.

In English:

Reading the latest of news at the breakfast table online, instead of tattering the newspaper.

It reminded me of an article from not even that long ago, sometime in the mid ’90s, which tried to paint an image of the networked future. It argued that electronic news outlets would not replace newspapers, because even if you received the newspaper in electronic form in the morning, it would take half a day and cost a lot of money to print it on your home printer. The solution, it turns out, is much simpler than the author probably imagined: just read the news on your computer. Of course, hardware is much cheaper and smaller nowadays and screens are much better, making that scenario possible.

Back then, it was natural to agree with the argument the article made. Merely ten years ago, it was an alien thought to be reading the news from anything other than paper. Now, the ubiquity of electronic devices has made us so used to life admidst them that it is an alien thought to print out things you could just as well read from the screen. Indeed, the paper is even seen as inconvenient.

This incident fascinates me as a hands-on demonstration that we are lousy prophets who can only conclude from experience. New media, new technology will not find adequate use and demonstrate its true nature until it has become a part of everyday life.

I keep finding myself disenchanted and disillusioned by how unremarkable the future turns out to be in retrospect.