The thing about the future is that it always seems off in the distance. Oliver Wendell Holmes said “old age is fifteen years older than I am”. It’s like that. Which is how they both sneak up on you, of course.
I remember giving a talk in Wellington to a bunch of screenwriters about the future of scripted content a couple of years ago. The exact date escapes me because I am into my ninth day of severe ManFlu and can only just remember how to exit my tiny, unruly bedroom to refill my water bottle for the fiftieth time. Hence possibly, the reason for a trippy post about the future and its many disappointments.
The talk described a time when long-form TV content will be available via YouTube when and wherever the audience wanted it; on a mobile phone, on a small laptop in a cafe or -in my case- propped up in bed and extremely high on cold and flu meds. At the time, this seemed like a magical land of far-off riches and fulfilled dreams.
Here in the UK, we have reached that land. And it’s shit. The video quality is significantly worse than iPlayer, the ads are clunky, they’re not frequency capped, it crashes way more often than it should (forcing you to sit through the ads again) and navigating the content library is just as appalling as it is on regular YouTube.
The other part of the talk focused on real-time location awareness and its uses in communication and media delivery. And now we have FourSquare. As you all know, I’m usually really bullish on emerging media but I just don’t see the long term value of FourSquare if you don’t live in Manhattan or London.
Granted, I DO live in one of those places but I have been stuck in a crummy, messy, dark bedroom in West London for the better part of a week. Who the fuck wants to be ‘the mayor’ of this shithole? Seriously, they can have it.
Maybe if I were Peaches Geldof or one of the cast of Gossip Girl then I’d need to name-drop every trendy eatery, bar and club I drop in on during the course of my impossibly glamorous and expensive nights on the town. But I’m not. This simply cannot be the best use of location awareness technology. It’s far too hipster and it takes all the fun out of stalking your next rape victim.
If used correctly, Twitter can make you smarter. Foursquare can only make you a douchebag. Unlock that badge, you pricks.
So as I was propping myself up to pen a little post about something that has never been expressed in the blogosphere before; disappointment and complaint about an online technology; my brother skypes me from the balcony of a hut by the beach in Vietnam. This hut has no doors but it has a fast, working WiFi connection.
And then it occurs to me. All this week I have been video chatting with friends and family all across the entire planet -for free- with the push of a single button. From under these very blankets, wrapped in a scarf and coughing like a Dickensian chimney-sweep I push a single button and I can see people talking to me in some of the most remote, savage and vile corners of the world. (That wasn’t racism. My youngest brother lives on the Gold Coast. I meant the Gold Coast.)
In between these calls I have been watching hour after hour of documentary on YouTube. I now know buckets about The Victorians, The Medici, The Celts, The history and origin of credit. It’s like that scene in the Matrix where they just download new skills and knowledge:
There is a truly amazing amount of video learning available and -again- it’s free. Think about this for a moment: being sick has actually made me smarter.
All of this from the comfort of a tissue-strewn bed. (And not in the good way.) Literally zero effort was required, which is good because I had literally zero strength for most of the week.
And so, between the coughs I start to think… Maybe this really is the future?
If it is, then the future tastes funny. Kinda like Strepsils and ManFlu.