Holding the future in your hand

Technologies change societies: it’s one of the truisms of human civilization. What was once good for the wheel, for the printing press and the internal combustion engine – to pick three at random – holds true for our handheld devices today. Admittedly the changes which the iPhone is bringing about are less radical than the three we’ve mentioned – don’t expect the Holy Roman Empire to go into meltdown all over again – but social change remains the corollary to technological innovation.


CreativeCommons  by  Mervi Eskelinen aka tasselflower 

Even if we step back from that grand historical canvass, those changes still show up in our everyday lives. In fact, the closer we look, the more the changes become evident. Let’s take the way handheld and even wearable devices have made TV a moveable feast.

Not so long ago, watching TV on the go would have been unthinkable. Now it’s just the way it is. If you’re on a train and you want to catch up with a soap or a show, it’s as easy as apple pie. That’s a change in consumption but what that recalibration is bringing about in its turn is a change in the way media products are made.

We’re already seeing our newspapers changing their presentation to suit flick-through users rather than those old-fashioned page turners. That change in the media is the sort of social backwash that innovation creates.

And what is good for one section of the media is equally good for another. Take sports, for example. More and more, broadcasters are realising that they have to integrate what they’re showing with the interactive aspect of the tablets and the phones that viewers are using to watch their productions on. Tennis and Twitter are now playing a happy game of mixed doubles thanks to the foresight of the US Open organisers @USAOpentennis. The Soccer World Cup likewise broke online engagement records.

That sort of interactivity is changing the place of sport in people’s lives. It’s making debating, berating and betting all one step closer for participants and spectators alike. Anyone with an interest in, for example, the UK’s famous Grand National steeplechase is only ever a click away from a Grand National betting opportunity. The chance to see messages of those directly to those involved, and even the means to tell them what they think of them is, likewise, always at our fingertips.

It is no surprise to see that, in light of this immediacy, the pace of our sporting habits is changing as well. Bets that allow the player to cash out early are part of the pattern. The same quick-hit logic has been formalised in online poker as speed poker – a format that delivers more hands in less time. As with the cash-out betting option, it is a way to get clients to return to the point of parting with their money with ever increasing rapidity. The world of leisure is speeding up.

Those people who see this as a form of dumbing down or who express the fear that we are set to become some sort of cyborg species  are missing an important point. Technology only moves forwards. Those people like the 19th Century English Luddites who seek to halt the tide of technological innovation are destined to suffer the same embarrassment as the legendary King Canute. You cannot hold back the progress of innovation any more than you can command the tides to turn.

What the growing access and empowerment that handheld technologies will provide in the future remains to be seen. What is not in doubt, however, is that they will affect the way we live in ways that we may not always have foreseen – much like the wheel, the printing press and the internal combustion engine.