The Future of Technology is a Joke
Waiting for long-heralded technologies to land can be like waiting for the punchline of an overdrawn joke. Is it really going to be a shift in understanding, did the teller make the ending too obvious or, were you robbed while waiting for the tale to finish?
I enjoy a change framework as much as anyone – hype cycles, adoption curves, horizons – but joke telling is just as useful. The three phases of many jokes are Framing, Telling and the Punchline. The punchline giving us a shift in understanding. Let me explain that with a choose your own technology / joke example
Blockchain, Augmented Reality or the Buddhist Vacuum Cleaner?
Framing – Did you hear the one about the next technological revolution? (a) the Blockchain (b) Augmented Reality or (c) the buddhist vacuum cleaner
Telling – (a) A technologist and cryptographer designs a transparent, globally distributed transaction ledger facilitating indisputable transaction exchanges. (b) Technology advances enough to allow real-time projection of computer generated material onto our visual field. (c) A monk tries to clean their cell but can’t reach the corners.
Punchline (a) It replaces money as we know it (and disintermediates / destroys the traditional banking system) (b) It brings data to life (and adds another layer of distraction and abstraction) (c) It has no attachments
The Shift (a) Do we need currency at all when we can use a ledger of tokens to connect to things in the real world (Gold, Land, Goods) (b) We’ve always had a reality abstraction. We started with accounting records using marks on clay. This is just faster (c) Does James Dyson clap with one hand?
The Telling Phase
It’s in the Telling phase that is interesting. We want it to be exciting or intriguing but not too long and not to signal the punchline. In technology, the consumer electronics industry (and the media it supports) keeps trying to give the punchline away. It keeps trying to make the audience invest in the telling position by asserting it owns the punchline and it is worth waiting for.
Reality however makes its own punchlines. 3D Printing for example turned out to be a weak joke on the consumer audience but comedy gold for manufacturing and engineering. Mobile communications wasn’t about better one-to-one communications but one-to-many-many-more.
Why is this interesting?
What will the punchlines be for blockchain and augmented reality? They are yet to be revealed. During all the attempts to tell the same joke the potential shift direction is revealed in background reality. In the time it takes to land the main punchline, the more we have time to turn a surprising shift (or ‘disruption’ if you like) into a useful progression. The Telling phase then is a buffer. We observe the iterations of the joke being told but, wait for the interesting punchline and still surprising shift.
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Also published on Medium.