The Inevitable


Founder editor of Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly in his book The Inevitable, talks about some of the technology trends that will shape society and consumption over the next few decades. He identifies 12 patterns – Becoming, Cognifying, Flowing, Screening, Accessing, Sharing, Filtering, Remixing, Interacting, Tracking, Questioning , Beginning.

Of these Flowing refers to the technology shapeshift after 20th century industry based design of desktop computers (examples like desktop, hierarchical folder structures, files) and the design of early internet – pages.  Today, Kevin says the internet economy is a constant flow of copies – be it twitter streams or facebook feeds, all populated by copies of content. We expect data and copies to flow into the now without waiting.

“The internet is the world’s largest copy machine. At its most fundamental level this machine copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. Now organizations need to save their customers and citizens time. They need to do their utmost to interact in real time. Real time is human time. An ATM gets you cash much faster than waiting for a bank teller—and more efficiently too—but what we really want is instant cash at our fingertips, something like the real-time money offered by the streaming companies of Square, PayPal, Alipay, or Apple Pay. So in order to run in real time, our technological infrastructure needed to liquefy. Nouns needed to be verbs. Fixed solid things became services. Data couldn’t remain still. Everything had to flow into the stream of now.”

In the digital age, copies are abundant and easy, unlike industrial age when copies fetched a premium.  What cannot be copied fetches a premium in the digital economy.

“Well, what can’t be copied? Trust, for instance. Trust cannot be reproduced in bulk. You can’t purchase trust wholesale. You can’t download trust and store it in a database or warehouse it. You can’t simply duplicate someone’s else’s trust. Trust must be earned, over time. It cannot be faked. Or counterfeited (at least for long). Since we prefer to deal with someone we can trust, we will often pay a premium for that privilege.”

Kevin suggests 8 methods businesses can use to make things better than free –

Immediacy – premium for getting copies ahead of time. Like watching a movie on the first day of release.

Personalization – premium for content creator’s efforts to personalize. You can’t copy paste the depth of personalized content.

“Aspirin is basically free today, but an aspirin-based drug tailored to your DNA could be very valuable, and expensive. Personalization requires an ongoing conversation between the creator and consumer, artist and fan, producer and user. It is deeply generative because it is iterative and time-consuming. Marketers call that “stickiness” because it means both sides of the relationship are stuck (invested) in this generative asset and will be reluctant to switch and start over. You can’t cut and paste this kind of depth.”

Interpretation – premium for the manual, the how to do it. Like DNA tests that are free but consultations to explain next steps and preventative cure fetching premium.

Authenticity – premium not for the copy, but for the peace of mind. And possible resale value in the future.

Accessibility – premium for ubiquitous access, for not having to care for things you own. Like ability to access iTunes music wherever you are.

Embodiment – premium for physical manifestations of the copy. Like a printed book, like watching a live performance. Like giving music away for free and charging for the live performance.

Patronage – premium from the fact that giving is a reward in itself. Like Radiohead and NPR.

One of the first bands to offer the option of pay-what-you-want was Radiohead. They discovered they made about $2.26 per download of their 2007 In Rainbows album, earning the band more money than all previous albums released on labels combined and spurring several million sales of CDs.

Discoverability – premium for the curation, machine-based, editorial and social.

“Movie fans will pay Netflix because their recommendation engine finds gems they would not otherwise discover. They may be free somewhere else, but they are essentially lost and buried. In these examples, you are not paying for the copies, you are paying for the findability.”

And Kevin believes the future will see the means of production of content inverted –

“Streams of powerful services and ready pieces, conveniently grabbed at little cost, enable amateurs with little expertise to create new products and brand-new categories of products. The status of creation is inverted, so that the audience is now the artist. Output, selection, and quality skyrocket.”

About the author

p m

is a generalist. very lazily believes specialization is for insects.

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