In Search of the Blue Idea
There are big, mind-blowing ideas out there waiting to be put into words, and eventually, practice.
Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation.
-- J. K. Rowling
I grew up immersed in science fiction. Not only did I read science fiction novels and short stories by the handful, I was in a science fiction book club, saw every science fiction movie that came out, attended science fiction conventions, and even wrote my own short stories (really bad short stories) for a Phoenix Fanzine, Twibbet. My love extended from the classics of the genre (e.g. Foundation by Isaac Asimov) to the less reputable paperbacks (e.g. Bill, the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison). From spaceships to creatures of the Id, these were my stories of choice for futuristic, swashbuckling adventure.
Looking back at the novels from the 1920s through the 1960s, it's amazing to see how accurate their predictions were of the future. From video conference to laser-guided surgery to communications satellites, science fiction novels were years ahead of what we take for granted today.
However, despite all their dead-on prognosticating, every single one of them missed the most important technology of the late 20th century. Whether you look at science fiction novels, movies, comic books, or 1950s television shows, not a one of them predicted the digital age.
Every gauge, clock, storage medium, and audio/video device was 100% analog. Trust me, over the decades I've read scores of stories and watched hundreds of movies (both good and bad), and nowhere will you find a digital readout or binary protocol. How the same people that predicted nuclear weapons (1914's The World Set Free) and the earbud (1953's Fahrenheit 451) could miss a few ones and zeros is beyond me, but they all did.
In the Year Two Thousand Sixteen
I can't help but think about modern technology and the today's top thought leaders. As a communications guy, I am especially drawn towards the innovations in my industry. While it's important that we spend energy on what we can deliver in the near term, it's just as essential that we dedicate brain cells to thinking about ideas to which we can't even put a name.
Let's consider something like WebRTC. Whether or not it becomes the game changer that some folks have predicted it will be, it's new enough and different enough to classify it as innovative technology. However, it's not something that will completely change how we communicate. Based on tried and true Web browser technology, it's a shift in how things connect, but it's not really a shift in how we pass information from one person to another. We still speak, type, and move our heads around.
The same can be said for SIP. It's a protocol that packages information differently than that of ISDN, but it's still basically the same information. Voice in, voice out. Video in, video out. Ho hum.
Add the Internet of Things (IoT) into the mix and we continue to deal with old ideas painted in shiny new colors. Don't get me wrong. I am really excited about what you can do with IoT devices, but is it all that different than an interplanetary spaceship with ancient analog gauges? I would argue that it's not.Where are the Blue Ideas?
The late, great comedian, George Carlin, challenged us by asking, "Where's the blue food?" Every other color is represented in the food chain -- red strawberries, green lettuce, yellow lemons, etc. -- but there is no blue food. Blueberries are purple, and blue cheese is white cheese gone moldy, so they don't count. Is the blue food the secret to immortality, and it has been purposely kept from us?
Using that same line of thinking, where are the blue ideas? Are we going to be like the science fiction writers of the past (great or insignificant) that completely missed what might be the most important invention to come along in the last 100 years? It really isn't that hard to move from a sine wave to binary numbers, but no one seemed capable of making that leap. Is that our fate?
As an eternal optimist, I believe that we are better than that. Knowing that we missed something as big as the digital world should be enough to make everyone want to work that much harder. There are big, mind-blowing ideas out there waiting to be put into words, and eventually, practice.Mischief Managed
The human race has been given the gifts of complex thought and opposable thumbs. We are the only species that can dream big and turn those dreams into reality. Do we solve impossible problems overnight? Usually not, but sometimes we do. All it takes is one person to think in a way that no one else dared to attempt.
Who is the next H.G. Wells? Who is the next Ray Bradbury? Heck, who is the next George Carlin, and where the heck is the blue food?
Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.