It doesn’t seem at all wrong that as I write this, I should be on my way to a music convention in the name of Marillion. Going back a few years now, as the millennium approached I remember buying the album ‘Marillion.com’. I was bowled over by the inside cover – hundreds and hundreds of passport photos, faces of the fans on whom the band had become entirely reliant for its income. Here was a symptom of something far deeper than selling recordings to casual listeners. Whatever was going on, I knew, I wanted to be a part of it.
Meanwhile some big changes were taking place in my working life, as I stepped away from hands-on IT and became an industry analyst. These were exciting days for technology: the ‘.com’ had arrived, and what a splash it caused. The good times were not to last of course, as for a thousand reasons, the over-inflated bubble of expectations collapsed and many who had gambled on the promise of e-commerce lost their shirts.
The visions of online nirvana weren’t necessarily wrong, just architecturally incomplete, technically premature and economically unsustainable. Despite the dot-bomb, many of the principles have continued to be developed – and while some new brands such as Amazon and eBay survived to become household names, many other, older organisations have reaped the rewards of their evolving online presence. This evolution continues.
As I once again start out on a new journey, things don’t seem all that different to how they looked 12 years ago. Today’s commentators talk about cloud computing like it was in some way new, and social networking like it is an end game. Neither is true – both are just way-markers, brightly coloured handkerchiefs tied to sticks along the road. Look back and they are clearly visible, still fluttering. Look forward, and they are harder to discern particularly as both marketers and pundits try to re-direct traffic towards their own, agenda-led targets.
Technology is shaping the future for sure, but I don’t believe that humanity will fundamentally change – either to become something it is not, or some augmented version of itself, homo steroidiens. Rather, IT will have succeeded when it fades quietly into the background and enables people to be more what they are – bringing up their families, watching and playing sport, and indeed, listening to music and sharing the experience. Such things are fundamental to being human.
Technology can help, but all too often it still hinders. One challenge is to put the emphasis in the right place, on the goal, rather than the toolkit. That’s why I chose to step away from looking at technology per se, and why the next stage of my own journey will involve more of a focus on how technology enables communities to exist, in all walks of life. Best practices learned by musicians and artists will be just as valid to governments, aid agencies and private companies – and vice versa of course.
Of course I will still have an interest in all things IT – just as a craftsman needs to know which chisel to use (though these are new crafts, and nobody can claim to be more than an apprentice). At the same time, the best thing about communities is that they encourage participation, and I am thoroughly looking forward to rolling my sleeves up, building, facilitating and above all joining in. More very soon, but for now I will close the computer and go enjoy a weekend with wonderful people and great music, which is ultimately what it is all about.