What a very interesting year this has been. Without going into painstaking detail, it started with me wondering if I could really hack it as an independent soul (I even applied for jobs – quelle horreur!) and ended with the thought that I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For the record I’m now working as an analyst for the illustrious crowd at GigaOm, chairing a fantastic technology incubator not-for-profit called Reconnectus, writing books and working in a variety of consulting, advisory and writing roles. Diary management can be a challenge.
But enough about that. If there’s anyone left on the planet that I haven’t bored rigid, I have been baking. Every weekend since September, in fact. For the record, baking has to be one of the oldest applications of technology conceived by the human race, taking us from mere hunter gatherers to, well, something more.
One of the fascinating things about baking is what it tells us about ourselves, not least our post-industrial-revolution, reductionist, misplaced view that technology can make everything better, and better, and better. To whit Chorleywood, the village which gave its name to the process now applied to the majority of bread making in the UK.
(he paused, to put bread in the oven)
By the late 1980s only 3,000 independent bakeries existed in the UK – a by-product of our mistaken view that what comes in packets is intrinsically better than what is made by hand. The good news is, this number has now increased to about 7,000, and continued to rise. Why? Because, ultimately, bread tastes nicer when it is not subjected to mass production.
Technology is fantastic, isn’t it? As we live in the middle of some of the most dramatic changes ever experienced by humanity, we cannot but stop and wonder. Earlier today I documented my baker’s dozen (really) of technology predictions, ranging from the groundswell of smart to the orchestration singularity. Coming soon to a blog near you.
At the same time however, it presents a double-edged sword. Snowden and the NSA, hackers and spyware, email overload and online addiction, the challenges faced in numerous sectors not least music, publishing, retail and indeed the technology industry, all with a seemingly complete absence of control as to where it is all going.
I remain optimistic and stoic in equal measure, in the face of this increasingly data-oriented future. We need a new rule book – existing governance and legislation is repeatedly proving itself woefully inadequate, be it for corporations, individuals or indeed governments. Never has the proverb “May you live in interesting times” been more accurate.
Equally, we can learn from the bread industry that technology sometimes enables us only to rob Peter to pay Paul, sacrificing quality or experience for lower prices or broader reach. It may take us another two hundred years, but we are smartening up – learning that the X Factor’s quick hit is ultimately unsatisfying. Simon Cowell could have come from Chorleywood.
The bread’s nearly done, so it is time to sign off for another year. Of all of our most ancient industries, perhaps the second oldest is potentially brewing – it isn’t hard to imagine how early tribes discovered other qualities of yeast, quickly realising that Man cannot live on bread alone.
On which note, the village hall and an evening of wine and song beckons. It just remains for me to me to wish you a delightfully relaxed New Year’s Eve and a successful, fufilling 2014.