Who will be the makers if computing becomes a utility?

Spoke at the Bunbury ACS Chapter the other night (g’day to @Moist & @nezzle) – about the future of computing and the impact of social computing. We had a really interesting discussion about privacy (and the death thereof as I have been prone to argue) and the possible futures arising from the social computing revolution.

My friend, Mark Pesce, has written extensively on the impact that the kind of hyperconnectivity enabled by the internet and social computing will have on education, business and politics. He covers many similar ideas to mine. And it would be foolish of me to do otherwise than direct people to his most excellent thoughts on the topic. Check out some of Mark’s ideas on his blog, or in particular here and there.

But one topic came up last night that is both interesting and important. One participant mentioned that perhaps her children & future generations would understand all of this new technology and its implications much better. She also posited that coming generations would understand the technology better than we do.

It was a great thought starter for me. Because I’ve argued for a long time that what we are doing with web 2.0 and social computing is abstracting away from end users the complexity inherent in technology.

Until now anyone who wanted to create a software artifact – web page, upload content such as images, video or audio – needed to acquire a reasonable amount of technical knowledge.

To create a web page one needed to know basis HTML. To upload the webpage and associated content to a URL one needed to know how to use FTP either via command line or client.

Now one can simply join up to Facebook or MySpace and, without any technical knowledge beyond use of a keyboard, mouse and web browser, upload and share textual, video, audio and visual imagery.

Web 2.0 and social computing have democratised the use of technology so successfully that it is now a utility akin to a light switch.

Most of us have no idea what goes on behind the light switches that we use everyday. The web and its applications are becoming similar utlitities.

An interesting question that follows on from this is – if web becomes a utility will we stop thinking about it very much?

Will we stop considering social, cultural and political issues that surround it and merely accept it in the same way we take electric light for granted?

By abstracting the complexity inherent in web applications and content away from end users are we making it easy for the technology to be used to constrain our behaviour, beliefs and actions?

And, most importantly of all, who is going to create the future applications if everyone just accepts the technology as a utility? We’ve already got a similar problem in the West with electrical engineers. How are we going to keep up the supply of people who know how to create software to ensure that we don’t end as a world of “middlemen” who only know how to use but not to create technology.

Some very interesting questions raised by the people I met in Bunbury.


2 thoughts on “Who will be the makers if computing becomes a utility?

  1. It was a great presentation, and we were really glad to have you. It’s so good to know that the post-presentation dialogue went even further than we took it at the forum.

    I’ve always felt that Web 2.0’s accessibility was one of it’s biggest failings as well as strengths in terms of the learning curve and skills set it seemed to make redundant – When I learnt about how to access the internet I was 12, and I learnt basic HTML because I wanted to make content and not just consume it. Today’s 12 year olds are a lot more in touch with the internet, but at the same time the necessity of skilling up in order to contribute on the internet has largely been taken out of the picture.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the paradigm shift shapes the future, and hopefully there’ll be more interesting discussions like ours in the mean-time.


  2. I have been wondering the same thing. Recent changes in technology seem to be undermining the specialist skills needed to create new things. And the same changes are undermining the economies of scale that have dominated industry for a couple of centuries.

    So we seem to be going back to cottage industries. with artists able to create new things without needing a manufacturing or IT degree.

    But we are not living in small villages any more. So I am wondering if people will move back into small, trusted communities … or if some group will find a way to regain the advantage of economies of scale and take over the creation and communication of ideas … or if we will lose our borders, get used to being small fish in a giant ocean and become a different society.


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