Kevin Kelly’s take on how technological development plays into the future of poverty and inequality – and why he’s not worried about unequal access to tech:
Inequality won’t be eradicated in fifty years. So I tend to think of the structure of these things as the haves and the have-laters. The haves basically pay for technology when it’s really crummy and early and expensive, so they overpay for it. And that overpayment and use of it brings down the cost until it’s affordable by the have-laters. And then the have-laters get great technology for very cheap. That’s sort of what happened with cell phones. So you have all the early cell phone business guys who were paying [multiple] thousands of dollars for this brick that didn’t work very well, and because they were all overpaying for it, it enabled the cycles of innovation and commerce to generate cell phones that cost, say, $30. And everybody had one and they were really great. So the haves in some senses, like, say, of the early VR, will overpay for technology that doesn’t work very well, enabling the have-laters to get really great stuff that works fantastic. So in a certain sense the have-laters have the best deal, because they get cheap technology that works fantastic. But of course they get it later. And they may get it a decade later.
And I think fifty years from now, the have-laters, they’ll be living like the super-rich today in a certain sense. You’ll have not the whole lifestyle, but you’ll have all the kind of stuff that everybody on Earth will have access to—smartphones, and they’ll have access to the bandwidth that we have now, and they’ll have access to VR greatly exceeding what the rich have today. But of course there won’t be anything like what’s available to the rich.
So there’s a slow rise of all boats, but there definitely is going to be a gap, and the question people really want to know is, is that gap widening or not? I think technologically the gap is narrowing over time. In other words the difference in the technology that a billionaire can buy versus somebody in India in another fifty years will be even less; there won’t be as much of a difference in fifty years as there is today. So technologically I think the gap is going to decrease slowly. But there are social, cultural differences. The historical evidence is that on a global average—not America, not the West, but all the countries of the world on a global average—that differential is actually closing and has been for the last two-hundred years. Whether it will continue, that’s a question we don’t know. At least I don’t know whether the global average between the super rich and the super poor—or even the average rich and the average poor—whether that’s going to close. We’ll see. There is certainly a power imbalance in what the rich can do.
But I also have to make one other final observation, which is if you look at the lifestyles of billionaires, they’re not a thousand times richer in their lifestyle than millionaires—because a billionaire is a thousand times richer in dollars, right? So in that sense, there is some threshold beyond which more money doesn’t make any difference. They have more power and other kinds of stuff, but in terms of their lifestyle and the cars that they drive and the clothes that they wear, the standard of living—the standard of living of a billionaire is not a thousand times more than a millionaire. So there are limits to how different your living standards can be, just practical limits, and I think some of those limits continue to shrink over time.Kevin Kelly talking about The Inevitable – interview at signature-reads.com
I recently listened to a talk given by Iqbal Quadir, founder of Grameenphone, at the Long Now Foundation in 2008:
In the early nineties I had a budding investment career, that’s where I discovered a decentralising force – namely Moore’s law. Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, observed in the mid sixties that every eighteen months microchips, the brain of the computers, go down in price by fifty percent. That means every thee years, namely twice the time of eighteen months, every three years prices fall by 75% to one quarter. Which means every six years it becomes one-sixteenth. And every twelve years, it becomes 1/256th. And you add another three years, let’s say every fifteen years, it becomes about 1/1000 to one.
So microchips are actually marching towards poor people.
And it’s also potentially a decentralising force, but I didn’t know how to make use of computers in a country where there’s a lot of illiteracy and so therefore people couldn’t quite use computers even if they’re becoming cheaper … perhaps they could be utilised, but I didn’t know how to use them because computers are mostly made for literate peopleIqbal Quadir at the Long Now Foundation
The march towards the poorest
In the decade since Quadir gave this talk, we’ve seen this happen – and in the development of new interfaces (and particularly smartphones) we’ve seen computers marching towards the less-educated too. This is good news.
Overall, we’ve seen this happen with basics like clean water and sanitation and clothing, with education and information, and with healthcare and entertainment. More on this tomorrow.
The question that occurred to me as I listened to this talk, though, was “what’s marching away from the poorest?”
My guesses are… land and space? An unspoilt natural environment? Community?
Or are these moving away from all of us? Would love your thoughts – I’ll update this post with links and references below.
Some things worth committing to:
- to service and impact for human-flourishing (vision, clarity and focus, outcomes more than processes, sustainability);
- to getting better every day (being a pro, showing up, learning, a path to making things better rather than shortcuts and hacks);
- to generosity and investing in others (kindness, sharing what you know, teaching and training);
- to a strong and evolving business model (planning, experimentation and iteration);
- to leadership and good management (executing well and running an effective team or organisation);
- to doing the money part well (financial management);
- to marketing and communication (so that the right people know the right things about what you do, and so that change happens and sticks);
- to building a network (so that the right people are working with you for change, with the right resources);
- to seeing the future and finding new tools (because effectiveness is a moving target);
- to having fun along the way (pow!)
Anything I’ve missed?
Computers have been on a steady march toward us. At first, computers were housed in distant air-conditioned basements, then they moved to nearby small rooms, then they crept closer to us perched on our desks, then they hopped onto our laps, and recently they snuck into our pockets. The next obvious step for computers is to lay against our skin. We call those wearables. … You may have seen this coming, but the only way to get closer than wearables over our skin is to go under our skin.
In the coming decades we’ll keep expanding what we interact with. The expansion follows three thrusts:
1. More Senses
… Of course, everything will get eyes (vision is almost free), and hearing, but one by one we can add superhuman senses such as GPS location sensing, heat detection, X-ray vision, diverse molecule sensitivity, or smell. These permit our creations to respond do us, to interact with us, and to adapt themselves to our uses. Interactivity, by definition, is two way, so this sensing elevates our interactions with technology.
2. More intimacy
The zone of interaction will continue to march closer to us. Technology will get closer to us than a watch and pocket phone. … Intimate technology is a wide-open frontier. We think technology has saturated our private space, but we will look back in 20 years and realize it was still far away in 2016.
3. More immersion
Maximum interaction demands that we leap into the technology itself. That’s what VR allows us to do. Computation so close that we are inside it.** From within a technologically created world, we interact with each other in new ways (virtual reality) or interact with the physical world in a new way (augmented reality). Technology becomes a second skin.**Kevin Kelly – The Inevitable
** Think about this – computers outside and a long way away from us, then closer and closer, then inside us – and then we’re inside it. Does this in fact happen with more technologies – and is it true of our environment as a whole?
*** Of course, technology has been a second skin for millennia – that’s what clothes are.****
**** Starting with animal hide – literally, a second skin.
Fair question. It began as a joke as the title of a shared googledoc, then became a domain name when I “did it now” and registered it on a whim to get things going. Sharky and I had been talking a lot about automation and driverless cars, so the “driverless” reflected our interest in technology and what’s coming next.
And I’m an enormous fan of the enormous crocodile.
The title is also about what we’re not. It’s easy to think that we’re heading for a future where humans will live as robot-driven, self-seeking reptiles – a world where only the crocodiles will survive.
This isn’t true: we are driving**, and we’re warm blooded – so let’s take our responsibility seriously and build organisations and a future where people are welcome and can flourish.
** I concede that we’re rarely as in charge as we think we are
Stats can help a lot – the right metrics are a sixth sense, helping you see through the fog and often giving substance to what your spider-sense is telling you about your organisation (or yourself).
Financial management is a good example – get your chart of accounts right and take the time to understand it and you’ll start to see things that might otherwise be invisible: surprising sources of profit, or things that cost way more than you thought they did and turn out to be liabilities, not assets.
Stats help you see the consequences of your practices now and where they’re likely to take you, allowing you to double down / change course in time to hit the jackpot / avoid the iceberg.
Stats are great. Unless…
Unless the thing you’re measuring becomes your primary concern – you become about the money, rather than who it allows you to serve.
It’s true of money. It’s true of views and visits. Your work isn’t for the money or the numbers. It’s for the people you seek to serve, for your colleagues and your customers.
So here’s an extra driverlesscrocolution: no jetpack (no stats) for a month, and hopefully better thinking, and better writing.
What if your the thing you do could be free? If the cost of all your inputs dropped to nothing – what would you charge?
If someone down the street started giving it away – why would people still come to get yours?
The answer is probably, because they want to buy it from you. They like you, the way you do your thing, the story you tell about what you do – and the way these things make them feel.
They feel good about you because you’re: more reliable / cutting edge / traditional / safe / fun / surprising / caring / professional / energetic / calm and collected / place a higher value on X / more educative / a long-term solution / like them.
In a world of abundant free – or nearly free – copies, what makes something worth paying for?
In The Inevitable Kevin Kelly suggests eight “generatives”: attributes of goods or services that add value:
- Immediacy (I can have it now – before the crowd)
- Personalisation (it’s special to me)
- Interpretation (how to understand or use the free thing)
- Authenticity and trust (it’s the real deal, not an imitation. Quality)
- Accessibility and convenience (so that it’s easier to access the free thing any time)
- Embodiment (e.g. the luxury of a physical book, or of doing something in person)
- The feeling and status of paying for it (patronage)
- Findability and curation (“a work has no value unless it’s seen”)
…these new eight generatives demand an understanding of how abundance breeds a sharing mindset, how generosity is a business model, how vital it has become to cultivate and nurture qualities that can’t be replicated with a click of the mouse.
In short, the money in this networked economy does not follow the path of the copies. Rather it follows the path of attention, and attention has its own circuits.Kevin Kelly – Better than Free
This is a ‘spec for a spec’ pulling together some threads from This is Marketing (‘The Simple Marketing Promise’, ‘Marketing in five steps’ and ‘Simple Marketing Worksheet’) and this page.
1. Audience: Who do I seek to serve?
What is the world view of the audience you’re seeking to reach?
My product is for people who believe…
I will focus on people who want…
What are they afraid of?
2. Purpose: What change do I seek to make?
What change are you seeking to make?
What story will you tell? Is it true?
I promise that engaging with what I make will help you…
How will it change their status?
3. Mechanism and Ecosystem: How will it work?
How will people hear about it?
What happens when people use it?
How will they tell others?
Where’s the network effect?
Where does the money come from? Where does it go?
What asset are you building?
4. Impact: How will we know if it’s working?
Are you proud of it?
What change do you hope to see?
Where do we go next?
Here’s the draft of five questions for first interviews on the DC podcast – let me know what you think. Spec for the podcast (which should have come first) coming soon!)
- Who are you, what do you do, and why do you think it’s important?
- How did your organisation or project start, and how has it changed?
- Can you share an important lesson that you’ve picked up along the way, and how you learnt it?
- Apart from that – is there a book, resource or author you’d particularly recommend?
- What’s next, and what hard-to-find resources or partners will you be looking for?
- What advice would you give to someone who wants to work for change, and is in the early stages of starting a project or organisation?
Backup / candidate questions:
a. What piece of advice to you think you most need to hear?
b. Can you tell me about a person who’s influenced you in a way that helped you to do your work better?
c. Are there any values, commitments or practices that you think are important in running an organisation but are often overlooked?
Have fun, learn lots, work hard, be kind.
You only get to do this once, so how are you going to play?
There’s a time for gritting your teeth, grinding it out, pushing through barriers. No pain, no gain is often true.
But for everything that isn’t necessarily hard, what’s more of an incentive to show up – hard work or fun?
If little and often is the best way to build something, to help people, to grow – what’s going to bring you back often?
What’s going to make people want to come with you?
Life is too wonderful, funny, tragic and absurd not to have fun along the way. The older I get, the more important I think this is, and the more ridiculous it seems that we put on po-faces for so much of our working lives, as if curt nods and knitted brows signal expertise and authority more reliably than a bit of levity and, dare I say it… joy?
Catch and sing the sun in flight.