The Technological Trends That Will Shape the Next 30 Years
An interview with Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick at Wired Magazine and author of The Inevitable.
Jul 26 2016
The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly is the most interesting nonfiction book I’ve read about the future in a long time. I constantly found myself rereading passages and marking pages to come back to later. Kevin has been an enthusiastic observer of both the human condition and the state of technology for decades as a cofounder of Wired, and his insights are deep, provocative, and wide ranging. In his own words, “When answers become cheap, good questions become more difficult and therefore more valuable.” The Inevitableraises many important questions that will shape the next few decades.
Kevin was generous enough to answer a few questions I had after finishing the book. Read on to find out why most people fail when they try to make predictions, what the future holds for the creative class, and why The Inevitable will be Kevin’s last print book. See these notes by the estimable Derek Sivers for more background.
If none of the important things of the next 100 years have been invented yet, how do you generate or select the next project or idea to pursue?
It is wide open! Most new ideas — including my own — will fail in the long term, but the ones that will succeed in becoming dominant in the next decades are most likely to come from the edge, as they have always. I’m good at working on the edge, so I look for ideas that are NOT popular at first, that seem marginal, niche, barely plausible. I’m looking for the places where technology is abused, misused, or unsupervised in order to get a glimpse of its natural inherent leanings. Where the edges go, the center follows later.
David Pogue points out that what differentiates your work as a futurist is that you have an incredible track record of getting it right. What are the most common mistakes you see people make when they try to make predictions? Why do so many intelligent analysts get it wrong?
The most difficult part about looking at the future is unlearning what we know. There is so much baked into our generally held assumptions that tend to blind us — all of us. You have to keep questioning the assumptions. But at the same time, most assumptions of what is correct are actually correct! So you have to keep knocking at the door, even though most times it yields nothing: “Is this really true? Who says? Why? Do I really believe it? What if it is wrong? What happens then?” That can be exhausting, frustrating, unproductive, so unless it becomes a habit, it gets old fast. You also have to question without too much stake in the answers. You want to have strong opinions loosely held, ready to shift rapidly when needed. Most people have trouble changing their minds. I like to have my mind changed.
Most sweeping surveys of what to expect in the coming decades focus on economic and geopolitical implications, but The Inevitable goes far beyond that.
What does the future hold for artists, writers, and creatives? What practical steps would you recommend we take to set ourselves up for success over the long term?
There will be a thousand new creative genres developed in the next two decades. Each of these forms will breed a new crop of stars that did not exist the year before. Cultivate a techno literacy. The tech will constantly change faster than you can master it, so you master life long learning. Aim lower; you don’t need a million fans; it’s a world of niches. The biggest challenge is to think different while being connected. It’s easy to think different while in isolation; it is easy to be connected. It is vastly harder to see different, make different, be different while connected to 7 billion humans all the time. Taking vacations and sabbaticals from the hive mind become important; cultivating a lateral view, nurturing the orthogonal will be essential. Not living in Silicon Valley will probably be an advantage.