Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Day 7: Ye Shall Developers Be

Now is the best time in human history to be a producer.  The paradox is that now is also perhaps the time in history when people are most likely to be consumers.  Like never before, we are a blind consumers of ubiquitous technology of all kinds.  Like never before are we, as a culture, so dependant on the technology we use.

My favorite example to use when I talk to people about this topic is this: "Do you think you're driving the car your sitting behind the wheel of?  Do you think the wheels turn as a direct result of your turning the steering wheel?  Do you think the throttle is opened as a direct result of your pressing the gas pedal?  Nope.  The car's computer is between you and the hardware; it intermediates and translates your meaning, and hopefully keeps you from wrecking, or wasting gas, or wearing too much on your tires.  The computer tries to fix you. 

What's more, often the intent of designers is to absolutely build systems in the abstract from the view of the user.  The sounds you hear the ATM make are completely divorced from the actual functioning of the machine.  The sounds are made artificially so you, the consumer, won't be freaked out by how smooth and quiet the actual working of the machine is.

I'm not the first to suggest that now is a great time to be a producer.  The maturing of the Internet's "third age" if you will, the age of portability and ubiquitous computing, are removing the need for the media broadcasters.  There's so much room for the delivery of content and so many consumers actively seeking that content, for free, that all you need do is attract a small but loyal percentage of the total viewer ship (even a niche market is millions of people) and you'll have a gold mine after which advertisers will pursue and help foster. 

Critics have long said that "free" is unsustainable; and rightfully so, but the way to make money is no longer to sell your product, but to have the users of your product agree, in one way or another, to sell their time and their viewer ship for the bargain of maintaining free access.  This is commonly (and boringly) called monetisation.

However, I think that the biggest reason that this is such an excellent time to be a producer (of content, of hardware, of technology) is because the audience is available... if you're good enough.  It is now and hopefully should be the realisation of that noble idea of success for the worthy. 

Here's the trick that managers of successful technology companies know; for people who are highly skilled in development in technology fields, the money is nice (necessary even), but geeks work for credit ("cred", if you will).  And, there's no cred like the kind of cred you can get on the Internet.

So, the great question going forward is, what kind of society are we going to be.  Are we going to continue on our current trajectory where, by far, the average person is completely dependant on the class of the technologically elite to build the technology they need and use in all aspects of life, and thus control in a real way what is and is not possible; or are we going to attempt to realise the ancient ideal of our democracy, where education is important because knowledge, and the skill to build things and manage technology for ones self, is truly powerful.  I hope it's the latter.  I hope for, and I work for a tomorrow where not just the USE of technology is revealed, but the DEVELOPMENT of technology is no longer for the few, but the many.

To that end, I've tried to introduce new technologies and techniques that bring computing out of the abstract, and move the skills we teach our students into the realm of the physical.

In a continuation of this effort I've been planning and scheming a YouTube channel for our department that will feature (and hopefully spread the word) about our efforts and our results.  The channel I envision will be a combination of entertainment and educational (so, you  know, basically the holy grail).  Hopefully more on this later. 

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