Being Digital – ~20 Years Later

Have you ever heard of Nicholas Negroponte?  Perhaps you have heard the expression ‘born-digital’ meaning that information started in a digital state and remained that way throughout its life?  It was Negroponte who first popularized and promoted the idea.

Now in his 70’s, Negroponte was an early futurist for the impact of technology and the internet on our lives.  In addition to writing for Wired Magazine, he also wrote the internet-future-handbook: Being Digital.  Published in 1995, the book predicted things such as the pervasiveness of email, the death of faxes, the growth of bandwidth and indirectly the pings of Candy Crush, Facebook or LinkedIn.

Some examples include the co-mingling (e.g. mashups) of formerly distinct streams of information.  Thus television meets audio which meets magazines which meets demographic marketing.  An example: Netflix which streams television shows and collects information which may then be used to promote things like sound tracks to those who are a fan of breaking bad.

YAWWN, boring, this is old-hat and why are you telling us about a nearly twenty-year old book?  The reason is not for the specific technologies but for the principles Negroponte identified in the early 1990’s.  Some he got dead-one, some are coming and some he missed completely (e.g. he did not discuss issues such as the terrorist/activist (you pick) group Anonymous hacking government websites, the NSA snooping every email or Nigerian princes offering their fortunes to you).

The ones that are still out there are things like the role computers can play as personal agents (e.g. Refrigerator to Toaster, let the human know we are out of Milk) or the ability of information to be pushed to us rather than pulled to us (milk carton, hmmm – half empty, better let human know…).

Being Digital has been on my reading list since the late 1990’s.  Some parts are a trip down memory lane and some sections (use email, it will solve everything…. Err, until you get 300 – A DAY!) are a bit dated.  Nevertheless, worth at least a skim if not an addition to your digital library.