I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets some weird enjoyment from looking back at people’s predictions for the future and judging if they were right or not. Like when kids in the 1950’s predicted what the world would be like in the year 2000. It’s fun to feel like you know something that they don’t know. You’ve lived through “the new millennium”, so you’re allowed to either laugh at how silly the majority of the predictions sound or marvel at how accurate a few of them are. As I delved into Stewart Brand’s The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M.I.T., I found myself experiencing that same weird enjoyment. It became quickly apparent that MIT’s Media Lab circa 1987 was much better than 1950’s children at predicting the future.
This first hit me when Brand begins describing Negroponte’s workspace. He writes, “two personal computers glow expectantly on a corner table – all computers at M.I.T. are left on permanently; I don’t know why” (9-10). Upon reading this, I chuckled to myself, thinking, people used to turn their computers off?!? Think about it – when was the last time you turned off your laptop, your smartphone, or your tablet? For the majority of us, our devices don’t power down unless their batteries die or if someone forces us to turn them off on an airplane (unless you are savvy enough to avoid this by using airplane mode). And I think the reason for never powering off our devices is directly related to Negroponte’s “teething rings” diagram on page 10.
Granted, we are 15 years past the “year 2000” side of this diagram, but Negroponte’s predictions here have certainly come true. The overlapping of broadcasting and publishing with the computer industry means that we use the aforementioned computing devices to consume the media that is produced by the broadcasting and publishing industries. How do I watch Netflix? On my laptop. How do I read the news? On my smartphone. How do I read the latest popular novel? On my kindle. We can no longer separate these spheres as easily as in 1987. And with society’s overwhelming desire to consume as much broadcast and published media as possible, there really is no need to ever power off your devices. In fact, you probably carry an extra phone charger in case your phone dies so that you don’t have to suffer through any time without access to these forms of media.
After learning about the state of M.I.T.’s Media Lab in 1987, it was a logical next step to take a look at how the lab is doing now. It only takes a few clicks on their website to see that they have many interesting projects going on. One of the ones that grabbed my attention fell under the “Camera Culture” category, which promises to “build new tools to better capture and share visual information.” The project, entitled “Eyeglasses-Free Displays,” has created screen display technology that corrects the image so that it can be seen by the viewer without the need for corrective lenses. As a glasses-wearer, how cool is that? The site promises that this technology is low-cost, and can even correct some vision issues that are difficult to correct with glasses.
Brand, Stewart. The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M.I.T. New York: Viking Penguin Inc, 1987. Web.
M.I.T. Media Lab. “Research Groups and Projects.” https://www.media.mit.edu/research/groups-projects. Accessed 11 October 2015.