Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Back to the Future

At our local park fair the other week I picked up Microserfs by Douglas Coupland. Written in 1995, I sort of never got round to reading it.

It deals with the "careers" of a bunch of Microsoft developers who go to Silicon Valley to make it big in a multimedia startup. Back in those days I had just started Armadillo, a multimedia startup in London, so the memories it brought back were acute. If any of these terms means anything to you, you need to find a copy:
- multimedia
- 3DO
- CDi
- 9.6k dialup
- Broderbund
- Voyager
- Powerbook
- NeXT
- SGI Reality Engine

Throw in some Apple-envy and some evocative prose about the Microsoft Redmond campus and I spent a happy and nostalgic couple of hours with this book. At the same time I was clearing out our office and found some awards from 1994 for Best Interactive Multimedia (from the long-gone XYZ magazine), and a BIMA, as well as the Photoshop 1.0 installation disc (one 720K floppy). Then I started boring the guys in the office with old multimedia tales until they surreptitiously plugged their ipods back in...

What was fascinating though was the frustration in the book - trying to build complex experiences within the limitations of the technology (CDROM, slow as treacle dialup) and the money required to build anything. Fifteen years on, both these barriers have gone.

As well as capturing the zeitgeist, the book also presages the arrival of social media and blogging and many of the casual predictions have turned out to be eerily prescient. But then I saw the list of advisors, and with the likes of Kevin Kelley and John Battelle on board he had some good futurologists.

So then I started thinking about 15 years from now. There's a sort of feeling that we're "there"; that we have ubiquitous fast broadband, great developer platforms and loads of free content; that all we will now do is tweak what we have.

So will 2025 be as different to today as Coupland's story is?

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