Do you ever watch videos from high-tech companies that are supposed to show off what they’re going to bring you in a few years? I watch them, but I know better than to believe they represent reality. It’s dangerous to try to live in the future instead of the present, whether you’re a company or an individual.
Microsoft has a new video out showing us what it expects the office of tomorrow to look like. To me, it just looks like something put together by an art director for an especially sterile and boring science fiction movie. It’s vaguely interesting if you’re into technology, but the track record of this sort of future-looking prediction isn’t good. (If you want a real laugh, check out what a technical magazine predicted in 1968 as life in the year 2008.)
It’s not just Microsoft that makes this sort of thing. I remember a similarly laughable video made by Nokia in 2009, and since Nokia is now fighting for its life two years later, it seems unlikely that the company still plans to pursue those fantasies. Way back in 1987, Apple made a similar forward-looking video based on the vision of then-CEO John Sculley (a couple of years after he pushed Steve Jobs out of the company).
So why am I so disdainful of this sort of video? Is it just because they tend to get things so wrong about the future? No, that’s not it at all. It’s true that the future never looks quite like what the futurists predict, but the real problem is that focusing so much on way down the road — and talking to the public about what’s down the road — does absolutely nothing to sell products today.
If Microsoft thinks it’s a good idea to design the office of the future as shown in the video, it ought to create the products and put them on sale, not just talk about them. (Remember the Microsoft Courier video for a product that was to never exist?) The same goes for Nokia and the old Apple (prior to Jobs’ return). I want to contrast that to Apple after Jobs’ return. Ever since 1997, Apple has adopted the exact opposite policy. Whatever they’re working on or even conceiving for the future is top secret. They don’t talk about something until they’re ready to sell it. As a stockholder — and as a customer — which is more interesting? What products might be available in five years? Or what products I can walk into a store and buy next month?
We need to be the same way with the people in our lives (and we need to expect the same from them). We need to quit dwelling on past glories or future hopes. We need to concentrate on what we’re willing to do — today — for the people we love. We need to ask the people in our lives what they’re willing to be or to give to us — now — not at some undefined time in the future.
I’ve been guilty of living in the future, and I’m not going to do it anymore. I can tell you from painful experience that if you live life in the future, it never comes. All we have is right now. If we live life fully today, tomorrow will take care of itself. If we have our eyes on the future, we get passive and stagnant — ensuring that we never can reach the dreams of tomorrow.
I know where I want to be in the future, but I’m not necessarily going to talk about much of it until I’m closer to delivering it. I’ve had enough of talking and embarrassing myself by not delivering. It’s a great thing to be an artist who shows you great visions of the future, but if you don’t actually convert what you’re talking about into reality for other people, you’re not a visionary. You’re just a dreamer.
Real artists ship real products and make good on real promises for the people in their lives. That’s what I want to do.