12 Tools That Will Soon Go the Way of Fax and CDs

YouTube & StanfordI‘m preparing for a discussion forum on Friday in Quebec City, and one of the topics we’ll be discussing is how the “information behaviours” of Generation Millennium differ from those of previous generations, and what that means for the tools they (and the rest of us — they outnumber even the boomers) will and won’t be using in the future.

Out of my research on this has come a list of tools, technologies and other artifacts of my generation that will probably disappear within the next generation, just as Fax essentially disappeared less than 20 years after it first became popular, and just as CDs, which my generation thought were the last word in music storage, are disappearing even faster.

Here’s the list:

  1. Hard Drives: The price of bandwidth, and the price of storage space in cyberspace, have both dropped precipitously. Expect them to drop further. We may even get to the point where companies will pay us to host our content, even if it’s confidential, just so that their clients can find out what we care about and can ask for a bit of our targeted attention. At the same time, Homeland Security is going to be scanning our laptops every time we cross borders, and delaying or charging us if they deem the content to be uh… unpatriotic. So why keep anything on a hard drive anymore? Let the storage and processing all be done in cyberplaces with lots of space and processing power and just stream the results to us, so our machines can be light, pocket-sized, always-connected, pure communication devices.
  2. “Wall of Text” Reports & Documents: Generation Millennium is returning to an oral/visual real-time culture, where blocks of text are used only when visualizations don’t convey what’s happening better and more succinctly, and where written language is used only when spoken language is unavailable (and with communication becoming more and more instant and real-time, that’s not often). This is not to dispute the elegance of well-crafted prose, stories and exposition, just to say it will be conveyed orally, not in written form. Iterative real-time conversation, visualizations, body language and voice inflection simply convey much more than the written word. Ultimately, good communication is more about context than content.
  3. “Best Practices”: It’s natural that people want to hear what the leading companies and individuals in any area of business endeavour are doing, but the sad truth is that most “best practices” are so devoid of context, of the knowledge and history that explains why they are so effective, that they essentially become unactionable. Show, don’t tell, and discuss, don’t proclaim, are the information behaviours of the future. Less efficient, perhaps (stories take a while to tell, and voice is harder to browse through for fast learning), but much more effective.
  4. Email and Groupware: I’ve written enough recently about the coming death of e-mail so suffice it to say it will be replaced by simple real-time face-to-face, voice-to-voice and IM technologies. Groupware has been dying for a decade: it’s overengineered, asynchronous, complicated and unintuitive more-is-less technology, and will be replaced by its opposite.
  5. Corporate Websites: I recently co-judged a competition of nominated best-of-class business websites, and I was aghast at how unnavigable and useless most of them were. My own research has indicated that most people who visit these sites are job-seekers, the media, and competitors. A combination of marketing/PR hype, just-in-case recycled internal junk, and self-congratulation, most corporate websites are devoid of useful content, and those that do have useful stuff have it buried where it can’t be found. You just can’t put a filing cabinet up online and expect people to wade through it. And your relationship isn’t with Company X, it’s with Individual Y at that company. Individual Y’s blog, with lots of contact info, timely, casual-style articles and useful links, and instant connectivity options, is to the corporate website what your personal company rep is to walking into the company cold and asking for help. Next-gen blogs by individual employees — personal, casual, chatty, accessible, hosted but uncensored by the employer — will soon blow even the best corporate websites out of the water.
  6. Corporate Intranets: Same rationale as #5. The main way knowledge is, was, and always will be exchanged in organizations is person-to-person in real time. Rich context, iterative, personal, demonstrative, have-it-your-way information, conveyed through conversation. Accept no substitute.
  7. Corporate Libraries and Purchased Content: The only people who really care about taxonomy and boolean search are librarians, and unfortunately they usually don’t know enough about their employer’s business to know what to do with the esoterica that requires such tools anyway. With luck, they’ll learn the employer’s business and morph into subject matter specialists, producing real research and analysis and adding meaning and value to information. But they won’t need a proprietary library for that. Nor will they have to pay for the content they add value to much longer. “Information is always trying to be free”, as Marshall McLuhan said a half-century ago. And they won’t sell their research and analysis either: They’ll give it to colleagues to use first, and later they’ll give it away to clients to show how smart they (and their employers) are.
  8. Cell Phones: Now let me get this straight: On my increasingly-compact, full-screen, full-keyboard laptop I can get wireless anywhere for a small flat monthly rate, and then make unlimited phone calls, download files and communicate in a dozen different ways for free. But now on this tiny awkward cell phone, you’re going to charge me for every message, and severely restrict what I can send and receive. And I’m going to put up with this why?
  9. Classrooms: There is really nothing that can be done in a classroom that can’t be done using desktop videoconferencing with screensharing, for free. No travel costs/time/pollution. No bums on chairs. Unlimited multi-tasking without nasty looks from the instructor. And with YouTube, SlideShare/SlideCast and other tools, you have access to the best presenters in the world on virtually any subject imaginable.
  10. Meetings: Same rationale as #9. With simple virtual presence tools you can actually exercise the Law of Two Feet without getting off your ass.
  11. Job Titles: Generation Millennium members expect to have 12 jobs in their lives on average, and to work on varied projects with cross-disciplinary teams rather than in a defined role. Companies are outsourcing, offshoring, fragmenting, moving to Peer Production. What value or meaning do titles have in such an environment? (If titles are still a useful status symbol, companies could simply follow the example of the banks and make everyone a Vice-President.)
  12. Offices: When I started working, executive offices had heavy dark wood paneling, fireplaces, and liquor cabinets. Now they’re 10×10, utilitarian, sometimes shared, often empty, and sometimes without walls. Meanwhile the pay for executives has soared. People would rather have the money than the real estate, and as the cost of space, and travel to and from it, rises, the cost/benefit of offices worsens all the time. The next generation works anywhere, anytime, anyway — home, car, coffee shop, and there is “virtually” no reason to go into an office to talk on the phone and work on the PC. As soon as simple virtual presence tools become second nature to the senior people in organizations (twenty years or so from now) the office will vanish.

I was tempted to add “keyboards” the this list but I’m not sure. Why is voice recognition and transcription improving so slowly? Even translation software is improving by leaps and bounds. I was also tempted to add”everything made by Microsoft” — but that would be too obvious.

Anything I’ve missed?

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27 Responses to 12 Tools That Will Soon Go the Way of Fax and CDs

  1. Chaitanya says:

    A bit off-topic comment, but hopefully relevant to the theme of the blog: I thought your thesis is that civilization itself is going the way of fax :). may i ask a honest question ? why would any of this techno-gizmo stuff interest you, if you sincerely believe in the eventual collapse, and that excessive technology is one of the main drivers of the collapse. or, do you see some sort of “appropriate level” of technology that we can safely adopt. Iam asking this not as a critical remark, but because iam curious how you manage to reconcile your interest in two seemingly contradictory philosophies.

  2. mattbg says:

    For #5, “investors” are another group that corporate websites are aimed at.

  3. mattbg says:

    The loss of #9 and #10 makes social interaction sound pretty bleak to me… I don’t enjoy the thought of losing those things. There seems to be something that you get out of talking to someone in person that is lost even when you can see their face on a screen. I assume it has something to do with pheromones.I also have concerns about the loss of #2. There’s no affordable substitute for accessing the wealth of information available in books. Books provide access to all kinds of unprofitable but well-considered and well-developed ideas in great detail that are unavailable in any other form because of the costs involved. The costs of those alternative media will come down, but a level of detail would still be lost. Only mass-market titles are converted to spoken word or visual documentary, and there’s a distance that the written word provides that allows people to communicate more honestly and thoughtfully. I think we’ll have lost a lot when the generation that seems unable to read is finally at the forefront. Idiocracy? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387808/I don’t agree with democractic selection of what’s important (i.e. Google ranking). It can turn into a feedback loop and hide the fact that we’re devolving. I think we need authorities to tell us what we need to know, not for us to go and find what we think we need to know. We actually need a combination of both, but I’d hate to lose the notion of an authority. There are almost always people that know more than us and have done more than us in some field, and I hope we’ll leave it up to other experts (rather than laymen) to decide who those people are.Dave, are you a genuine believer in these ideas, or are you trying to make the best of a bad situation (i.e. rather than despair about generations that have lost the ability to focus, and to think in depth and at length, try to find ways to accommodate them?). That’s not meant to be offensive; Igenuinely wonder…

  4. Overall, I’m in agreement with most of what you said.A few comments:1. Hard Drives: In principle I agree. But paranoia from many will stop them from putting their stuff out there. That is the only hindrance I see to your prediction.2. “Wall of Text” Reports & Documents: Oh now this I

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Bunch of questions here, and in e-mails I’ve received:1. By the end of this century none of this will matter anyway, but we live in the here and now and this evolution will occur before most of the cascading crises that make technology trends a moot issue occur. Might as well do our best and have fun before all the lights go out.2. Surprisingly few investors visit websites. The info on them has been sanitized by PR and lawyers to ensure there is little of any value or interest to them. Investors want future forecasts, which are generally not permitted in corporate disclosures.3. Gen Millennium is extremely social. They just know there are better places for interaction than classrooms and meeting rooms.4. I don’t think it’s human nature to communicate with blocks of the written word; it’s awkward, and prone to being misunderstood. There are other effective forms of literacy than capacity to write and read elegant prose (e.g. oral and visual), and even rhetoric works at least as well spoken as written. I won’t cry over the end of the written essay or wall-of-text book, and I’m prepared to learn to compose and perform orally instead of on the printed page.5. I think authority has always been ultimately peer-granted, and this leads to better assessment than initials after your name (though the initials carry some weight in that peer assessment). I trust the wisdom of crowds as long as it isn’t influenced by mass media groupthink (which alas it too often is but that’s another issue).6. Bruce Stewart writes that lots of virtual voice conversations in open spaces in workplaces could get very noisy and disruptive. We’ll have to accommodate that in future workplace and conversation place design, and perhaps in lieu of the keyboard (once voice recognition gets good enough) we’ll have a high tech version of the stenomasks that let us converse v2v with virtual colleagues without disturbing those in close physical proximity having their own conversations ;-)

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Kristina: Great additions to the list — thanks.

  7. What about the decline of mainstream media? With a lot of people creating their own channels in YouTube it’s only a matter of time before people realise that with a half decent camera, they can be producers instead of consumers of media.

  8. Jon Husband says:

    Seen Michael Wesch’s Anthropological Introduction to YouTube and his stories about participant observation helping to create understanding and meaning ? I wouldn’t overlook the use of videos, vlogging, commenting via Seesmic, etc. from a list of GenMill tools .. I think.

  9. Jon Husband says:

    My comment directly above addresses (or more accurately fits into) your point #2.

  10. Gavin Downing says:

    As a teacher, I’m pretty sure classrooms won’t go away entirely. You’re right that, for some, the classroom environment is not necessary, and we will likely see a growth in internet-based classrooms.That said, some people need a different sort of environment, and they simply cannot learn that way from a computer. The classroom environment is necessary for some learners, and it’s a larger percentage than I think you may suspect.

  11. Jon Husband says:

    Evidently there is a new version of Naturally Speaking (vr software) that is pretty darned effective. Haven’t tried it.

  12. Kevin Carson says:

    If the dislocations from Peak Oil get bad enough to cause widespread server failures, a lot of folks may be glad to have their own hard drives still around. Remember that the modem and direct computer-to-computer links over the phone lines date back to the ’70s, and were the basis for Fidonet and a large number of community Bulletin Board Systems long before the Internet came along. In a post-crash world, so long as local fiber optic infrastructure remains intact, directly linked hard drives may be the basis for resilient local networks.IMO your inclusion of hard drives amounts to a shortsighted sacrifice of independence to the false “efficiencies” of a centralized system, at the cost of a very real threat to our future security.

  13. Amanda Molloy says:

    We’ve already largely lost the capacity to write (just imagine how much most students look forward to 3-hour written exams) and if the keyboard and cellphone go, then even typing goes out the window. So in the post-crash world, will humans have maintained any of the essential skills that will allow for future survival?

  14. Brutus says:

    Like the first couple of comments, I, too, am puzzled by this post. There is an apparent disconnect between your professional self (KM guru) and your person (eco writer and cultural critic), which allows you to prophesy uncritically about the abandonment of various artifacts of culture (mostly business related) as though this new KM paradigm is coming and we must inevitably embrace it or languish. Without addressing your 12 tools specifically, I admit that some will go while others persist. Such changes are always occuring. The missing commentary is how quickly things are changing and what may mean for us as a culture. You touch lightly on that in a previous post on how students are adapting to an entirely new way of learning and structuring their understandings of the world, based largely on video and peer networks. Ironically, considering the collision course civilization in on, they’re preparing for a world that won’t be there much longer. Similarly, while I acknowledge we live in the here and now (as you point out), the disappearance and emergence of new technologies looks like the proverbial arranging of deck chairs on the Titanic. Is it not preposterous to wave that aside? Or does KM and tech geekery make new developments (novelty is a rather arbitrary value, BTW) too alluring to resist?

  15. Dave Pollard says:

    Ivor: Good point.Gavin: The only classroom that works in the long run is the community at large. Not sure when the community will face its responsibility to be so.Amanda: Literacy skills aren’t what we’ll be missing after the collapse of civilization. It will be the practical skills of self-sufficiency — how to grow our own food, make our own clothes, build and fix things. An oral culture can help us relearn these as well as a written-language one, but first we need to discover who can teach us these things. Aboriginal cultures would be a good place to look for them.Kevin/Brutus: Well, this is interesting. I have no difficulty bifurcating what is happening and what needs to be done in the short-term (which, human nature being what it is, will be business as usual until we have absolutely no choice but to change everything we do), and what will inevitably happen in the longer term (and I’m learning that most predicted crises happen later than when the brightest prognosticators think they will, but ultimately end up changing things more than they think). What happened in 1929, and in 1939, and in 1989, and in 2001, were all predictable decades in advance by those with foresight and the knowledge of history. We will continue to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic even after the first of the civilization-ending catastrophes befall us, because that is what humans do — we concern ourselves with the needs of the moment, and prolong the inevitable as much as possible. I don’t think we’ll see any sea-changes in behaviour in my lifetime (statistically another 20 years) and that’s a whole generation. So I think it’s useful, and fun, to prognosticate about technology changes over that period. My guess is that we’ll face another Great Depression in the 2030s (although there will be some grim recessions before that) and the cascading crises will increase thereafter until it becomes impossible to deny that our civilization is coming to an end (about 2060s or 2070s).By then it will be too late. This is essentially what John Gray says, and I find his argument compelling. I’m not depressed about it, nor do I think it’s avoidable. Just going to do my best to create some working models for the (few) survivors to follow, which is now taking up half of my time. The other half is having fun, here, now, in the context of all the ultimately irrelevant issues, toys and inanities of the day. Short of suicide, it’s the only way I can see to deal with things. Musical deck chairs, anyone?

  16. Alain Saffel says:

    I suppose if you live in some sort of Utopia, this might happen, but frankly, I doubt much of it will.You think text will disappear? This is BS. There will always be a place for text in whatever form it takes. Older technology doesn’t disappear just because something new comes along. In some cases, yes (8 tracks, records). In some cases, no (radio, TV).I think that you’re wrong on cell phones. They just keep getting more powerful and more popular. The laptops are more likely to disappear. Who wants to carry their laptop to the bar?Meetings and classrooms? They’ll never disappear. Won’t happen. Sure, you can meet from a distance, but people like that real interaction. I attend classes as much for the material as the connections I can make… in person. Connections across the world are great, but it’s nice to be able to go out after a class for a beer too.Corporate websites. They’ll be around. The successful ones aren’t just going to be online brochures.Job titles will also still be around. When people stop caring about status, maybe they will. Until then…One thing I’m not predicting the end of are these types of articles. *yawn*

  17. Ton Zijlstra says:

    Maybe your perception of #8 is a very North American perspective on how carriers operate there. EU mobile experience is a different thing. Apart from the keyboard I can do with my phone most of what I can do with my laptop. For the same flat fee.

  18. Sam says:

    “The only classroom that works in the long run is the community at large.”I’m always interested in predictions about the future of technology – as a librarian I have to try to take the long view on a wide variety of information technologies – what can we afford to adopt, what can we not afford not to adopt, what kinds of things should we wait and see on? One roll that the public library is filling to a certain degree is that of the community classroom – not just a place full of books, but a place where people can gather and access knowledge in all its forms, electronically or otherwise. Information does want to be free, but anyone who is aware of copyright laws knows that the people who are making money off their information resources are loath to let them go. Back to the library as classroom – even though technology is evolving quickly, the gap between those people that quickly adopt and adapt, those people who wait and see what’s good, and those people who refuse to move ahead until forced, will continue to grow wider. There are still plenty of people who do not use computers at all, who don’t use the Internet even if they sometimes use a computer, or who can only perform basic tasks on the Internet. But even when that day comes (and it’s still twenty years off at least) that an overwhelming percentage of people have both access and basic skills enough to do basic computer/internet tasks, the forefront of that technology and most of the middle ground will be much farther away from the beginners than that same horizon is today. So, the library – where you can learn things for free, read up on the subject, ask questions, take classes, get access, meet with peers, have forums, etc. etc. etc.

  19. Judy Dewey says:

    Don’t #6 and #12 have an inherent conflict? The corporate intranet is going away and person-to-person interaction will replace it, but then you say that offices are going to disappear and we’re going to work in cyberspace?

  20. You got both the quote wrong, and who said it.[Stuart] Brand’s conference remarks are transcribed in the Whole Earth Review (May 1985, p. 49) and a later form appears in ‘The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT’, Viking Penguin, 1987 (ISBN 0-14-009701-5), p.202:”Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. … That tension will not go away.[1]”Information wants to be free. (2008, August 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:47, August 14, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Information_wants_to_be_free&oldid=231059952

  21. YES, you forgot HUMAN INTERACTION. Any education major know online classes are a very poor substitute for face-to-face classes, and if you are telling us on some items that techno will be replaced by face-to-face, why would you tell us on other that face-to-face will be replaced by techno?

  22. TJP says:

    These predictions, most of them, show a keen lack of understanding of how people work. 1. We will always expand to our greatest capacity.And people are “pack rats” we like to keep stuff.2. There will always be people who work better with Text and email type of communication. Besides the CYA justification is a good reason to keep text.3. People will always look to a successful company and ask – “Well how do they do it there?” This “best Practices” give the novice a chance to learn and the company a chance to show off.4. You may have a good prediction in this except for the use of E-mail as described in #25. Every company needs a a clean fresh face fro Branding ! – useful or not.Blogs by personnell are not “official or stlyistic” enough. The Face and the image website will always be needed.6. We need the intranets to combat the increased turnover in employees. Make clear the official documents and save employee wisdom.7. Ridiculous – It is in the nature of every man, woman and child to organize, classify and save information. Information is not Free – it costs time and resources.Large database and journal providers sell their products for money – not for prestige. No company will give away it’s informational assests for mere show. If they can make a dime on it they would and should. Besides, people will always be willing to pay for what they value – and – they will always value what they pay for.”You get what you pay for”Prestige can acutually come from how much is charged as a proof of quality.8. Cell Phones gone ? Watch Star Trek – ever hear of a Tricorder and a Comm Badge ?9. Yeah somtimes we need that nasty look from the teacher. Some people learn best when it is in person.10. We all like to have an excuse to travel and be in the same room with other people. With the increase of online work this need and practice will actually increase ! Travel Conferences are often considered a “perk” . Who is going to give that up ?11. People love Titles ! Watch children playing in the park – they love to give eachother titles and roles. It helps build self-esteem and describes our relative positions to each other.12. Less Offices – sure – but vanishing – I don’t think so. Ha Ha – Fax machines haven’t even vanished – they are a very important tool in everyday business.

  23. Hey, Dave, You say your spending half your time coming up with alternative models for people to survice the failure of civilization and half your time having fun.Seems like you’re actually spending all your time having fun. I’ve been waiting for Natural Enterprise to come out since 2004. This is a model that seems promising and yet it languishes lost in the impossible to navigate, incredibly too many pages of your blog.Come on Dave. Sacrifice a little of that fun time and get that book out. I promise you I’ll throw you a big party as soon as its out.(I suppose it might be out and I just can’t find it in all this fun talk or on Amazon. So, if it is, I apologize for prodding you. But if it isn’t…)

  24. Well, I guess maybe sweet spot might be that book, but its hard to tell without any “See Inside” pages on either Amazon or Google Books.c.Is sweet spot the book on Natural Enterprise? and is it the hands-on book promised?

  25. Dave Pollard says:

    Yes Claude, it’s renamed Finding the Sweet Spot. Lots of ‘looks inside’ coming soon.

  26. Sorry… I got a little worked up there. I have been really anxious to see that book and somehow its release didn’t come into my field of vision until just now.Thanks, Dave.claude

  27. First I wanted to reinforce Michael Sauer’s comment re: the origin and context of the “Information wants to be free” quotation…. And I think the context is important to the meaning of prediction #7. I think you’ve got it partially right: librarians do need to get better tuned in to the needs of their corporate customers and provide on-target research and analysis. One organizational model that enables them to do that is “embedded librarianship”, which is the focus of my blog and my research (funded by the Special Libraries Association). At the same time, I don’t agree that the corporate librarian’s content acquisition role will go away. Information will still want to be expensive, as well as free — as Brand pointed out. (It will be almost all digital, but that’s another issue.)Some things _do_ go away, but I’m generally skeptical of such predictions, because often the new and the old coexist. The new is layered on top of the old, so to speak.Having said that, one thing I think will go away is landline phones!

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