I spent some time over the weekend throwing away old data CDs. Many of these were for courses I’d delivered on customer sites. These days the course tools are shared on a (soon to be obsolete) USB 2 stick. Others were archive disks for my digital photos. I didn’t quite get to throwing those out, but as I put them back in the cupboard I reflected that my current laptop doesn’t have a CD drive (though I have an external drive that I hardly ever use.) These days all my photos get uploaded automatically to DropBox as soon as I’m on WiFi network; no more cables, manual file copying and CD burning. No doubt, should I ever need these CDs again, I’ll have nothing left that can read them. My kids don’t respond to emails, I have to message them using social media. My colleagues judge each other on the dubious statistics generated automatically by the search algorithms in Google Scholar Citations. I video call people on the other side of the planet for free on a disposable mobile device. All of this is, of course, the new normal. Something happened over the last few years that moved our lives into the socio-mobile cloud where we gave up ownership and control for convenience and immediacy.
The question I find myself asking as I trash my old CDs is what will the next new normal be? What will happen to us in the future that will make Facebook, WiFi, smartphones and cloud storage look like clunky old museum pieces? Relentless connectivity will be the first to arrive, since it is already well on the way. The immediate casualty of that will be that the blessed sanctuary of the aeroplane will be absorbed in to the all consuming expectations of 24/7 availability. We will lose what little control we have over our means of communication as the relative privacy of corporate email gets overtaken by misguided attempts to make us more ‘social’. We will lose ownership of any and all data that we generate, as private storage becomes obsolete. We will be unable to define ourselves in any domain other than the digital; your online profiles will be more powerful than the real you. At some point, we will be required to sell the last fragments of our individuality to the needs of corporate greed and national security. If the past is anything to go by, we will do it willingly and blindly, trading our inheritance for a few trinkets.