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Web Directions 2014 – Interconnected

This week I’m attending Web Directions South 2014, a conference for people who “design, imagine, create or build digital products, web sites and applications”. I’m excited to be part of this event. I’ll blog about my take-aways from the sessions I attend, and anything else that comes to mind.

There are 700 attendees at Web Directions South this year. The conference spans two days, with 24 sessions on two tracks: engineering and product.

The event started with Nathan Moran of the Metropolitan Land Council, conducting a traditional “Welcome to Country”. Nathan welcomed us to the land originally owned by the Gadigal clan. He finished by saying he hopes we can inspire more of “our mob” to get into the creativity demonstrated by the web and modern technology.

Interconnected, by Matt Webb

Matt Webb is “co-founder of Berg, design studio turned Internet of Things tech startup” (from Matt’s speaker blurb). Matt presented the keynote on day one of the conference.

He started with some pictures from the last century, showing what people thought the future would look like. Phones that show TV as well as sound. Electronic mail that works by photocopying your letter and beaming it up to a satellite and back down again. So close, said Matt.

His aim was to toss around ideas, especially on the theme if the interconnectedness of things. So he took us on a spiderweb of associations, jumping from stories to ideas and back again.

What happens when the world is interconnected? It’s going to be super complex. How will we cope with that?

We’ve had huge things happen before in our history as mankind. Think of the great flood and other cultural myths. We have those memories and share those myths.

Matt likes the idea of panpsychism – everything is sentient, even tiny specks of dust. The Internet of Things is already happening. Product interconnectedness is the new electrification.

Matt told us a story of a recent interaction he had with Station Jim, a stuffed dog on a British train platform. When Matt tweeted about seeing the stuffed dog in a glass box, @stationjim tweeted back. You get a magic feeling when the world comes alive and starts talking to you. It’s powerful. The episode of Station Jim may be trivial, but think of the other events where the Internet has played an integral part.

The metaphors we use when talking about technology shape how we think about it. The metaphor quickly disappears, and the concept is set in our minds.. For example, the Web is based on the idea of paper and documents. This is good. But think of how it has affected copyright.

People form attachments to virtual things. What we’re walking into is a world where high tech merges with our mundane lives. Matt showed us a video of a robot folding towels, and joked that he really wants one of those.

The beginnings are important, because they set the culture. Do we need to keep striving for simplicity in our products? What’s special about the Web is that it’s egalitarian. When we decide how to build the internet of things, it’s important we make it just as egalitarian.

The above are just a few notes from this hour-long presentation. Thank you Matt for a funny and engaging introduction to Web Directions 2014. Drum roll for #wds14!

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