The Future: Near & Far

I was catching up with David Cranor today. He’s one of the smarty-pants people who helped bring the Form 1, and we had a great chat. David’s been hanging out in Shenzhen, marveling at the ecosystem that’s emerging there from all the high-tech manufacturers existing in such close proximity. We were sort of just chatting about China, Google Glass and whatever when he made this offhand comment that really struck me. He said

It’s really easy to predict the far-future, but it’s really hard to predict the near-future.

He’s dead on, and that thought caused a lot of things to line up for me. Technology has always accelerated our environment. But the changes in the past ~10 yrs have actually created a space between what is emerging (near-future) and what is true change (far-future). This is a powerful distinction for me because it (rightly) implies we have a few problems when we bring new ideas into the world. We have near-future problems, which mostly hinge on behavior and adoption. And we have far-future problems, which are more about scale, economics and competition. And as the saying implies; if you cant create a near-future, you have no shot at a far-future. 

The Near-Future
As David rightly stated, it’s really hard to figure out which ideas people will adopt in the short-term. We each live such a full existence, we’re regularly trading experiences. And we have endless ideas vying for our attention. At this point, you’re off better asking what someone would trade for your experience rather than understanding if you have a “good idea”…it’s all relative. I feel like this competition for  attention (and affection) is one of the reasons design has become such a powerful tool in such a short period of time. To survive the near-future, things have to be engaging, they have to be easy. These are the new table stakes. 

The Far-Future
The far-future is a different set of problems. It’s about scaling an idea and learning at a much bigger scale. If you’ve exist in the space, you can use your scale to bend the will of the world (for a short time, anyway…think airlines and mobile phone companies.) Sometimes we miss the near-future for the far-future because certain ideas just seem inevitable (like robots, as @Faris pointed out on Twitter.) For things to bridge to the far-future, you have to build some sort of on-ramp through the near-future. Amazon is a great example of this, Netflix may me one. 

These are not new problems, but I’m interested that the pace of our lives may be separating what once seemed like one problem into two distinct spaces. Either way, it’s a helpful framework to understand which problem you’re solving; interest/adoption or scale/competition.

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