Monday, 23 March 2015


The memory of the Who’s 1967 hit fills the head of any futurologist who wants prove their infallibility. But it isn’t really like that. Look at those economists who thought the US property boom would last forever.

Justin King who used to run Sainsbury’s once said derisively that the High Street was over and out-of-town was the future.  Everyone from Lord Beeching onwards was wrong in predicting the demise of trains.  And the book (a paper David to the Kindle Goliath) is making a remarkable recovery from the literary morgue.  Even records in their own small way are on the way back.

From learning Latin in school to the seeming forever price decline of oil, nothing is any longer impossible. No trend is irreversible. The future is opaque and turbulent.

Which brings me to the internet.

I was phoned by a very senior guy from a big multinational last week to say he’d been to a talk by someone from the Harvard Business School about the future of technology. He laughed and said I was so out of touch - all quill ink and parchment - but that even he and probably his 15 year old son were off the pace too. It could have been Dave Eggers that was talking as  in his book “The Circle”, a fantasy of the future of the web and the end of privacy.

I mildly said this was probably wrong, that technology had a curious tendency to self- consume and that irreversible, bet-your-house-on-it trends had a nasty habit of leaving you homeless.  The internet is obviously wonderful and has changed a lot of lives for the better. Yes, it has served its original purpose of sharing knowledge generally to great benefit but its frailties are equally obvious - a force for evil as well as good as ISIS is showing.

Andrew Keen has written a book entitled “The Internet is not the Answer”. In his most recent blog he says “Be afraid, be very afraid.”   Be afraid that the internet is a winner-takes-all market leading to monopolies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook.

 Be afraid that usually the nastiest people in business seem to be the owners of the space

Be afraid of Wikipedia as a knowledge source.

Be afraid of the virtually unchallengeable assumption that this is the only future there is so we naysayers had better shut up because they’re right and we’re wrong.

Well not necessarily.

Here’s another scenario.

A perfect storm erupting of persistent cyber terrorism, of critical systems failures and of the internet equivalent of a virus that’s a cross between Ebola and bubonic plague. All simultaneously.
Imagine in short it’s time for the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, megalomaniac geeks without any good on their minds.

Then the internet might prove not to be the answer at all just a messy problem; like 2008 but worse.
And the problem and the answer would, ironically, be the same thing.

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