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Is Technology Living Up to Our Expectations?

In 2009, I applied for a job with an organization called Xigi. During my early interviews, they talked about how we would be engaging in something called “connection journalism.” Sensing a rare opportunity, I spent several late nights preparing for the next round. Having worked primarily in the film industry, with some stints here and there writing professionally, I was not especially impacted by the tremendous disruption taking place in mainstream journalism.

starsI had the odd experience of moving into more steady employment just as the field was imploding around me. I was to become more acutely aware of this over time, as I covered this and many other disruptions to traditional media and technology in my work for IdeasProject, the Nokia-sponsored site (created by Xigi) for which I was and am still employed.

This work has enabled me to do two things I love, write and edit video. The connection part involved the creation of content links and maps to all of the technology thought leaders we featured on the site. More recently, IdeasProject has emerged as a crowdsourcing platform, pooling ideas from a large user community to address global challenges.

It’s also been an incredible exposure to the most forward thinking people in technology. Yet like so much I see these days, it’s never quite met my expectations for what seemed possible when I first interviewed for the position in 2009. Of course, many incredible things have happened since that time, and IdeasProject has been successful beyond all expectations. Perhaps because my previous work was on films like Star Wars, Titanic and Fantastic Four, I came into this field with expectations that were perhaps unrealistic.

Still, is it so unorthodox to assert that technology has not yet met our expectations for what it can and should be? Mostly, we hear about how many amazing things are happening and how fast. And indeed, the pace of change has been phenomenal, with so many technologies that were dominant for so long (television, radio, telephone) having been effectively blown out of the water. But in this age of disruption, our expectations for what can be done have been galloping even faster. And in spite of all the wonderful new technologies that are available, things are a bit of a mess, with platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter changing daily, new features being launched and then dropped, and no real clarity about where things are headed.

With all that said, this chaos of not being sure what we want or what is next is actually a good place to be. Chaos is actually my preferred environment for doing creative work, so I’m not complaining. Never before have I witnessed such verve and excitement in business and technology. It’s truly an amazing time, when anything is possible. But things are still a mess, and not just in technology, so it matters quite a bit whether we are able to find solutions that will make our lives and our planet better.

After two-and-a-half years at IdeasProject, and nearly a year at Involver, I know a lot more about why technology has not caught up with our expectations. Programming is expensive, complex and challenging, and the speed with which ideas are executed is limited according to budget, marketability and the availability of programmers. Each time a new idea or feature is implemented, we must wait to see whether users will like it and adopt it and then determine whether it is monetizable. Also, because the environment for new technology is so tremendously fertile, thousands of startups are now scurrying to execute their own brilliant ideas and be the next Twitter, Groupon, Foursquare, Turntable, etc., which means that for every step forward there are also many steps sideways, backwards, and off the path altogether.

These musings also describe the state in which I see online video and journalism, where some progress is being made but we may not know exactly what it is until the successful platforms experience wider adoption. And what I’ve also realized in all this is that if I’m not yet seeing what I’m looking for, I might just as well create it myself.