The discussion of business IT often veers into can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees territory, where it's easy to forget just how cool and exciting this stuff can be. That's why Dispatches From the Hyperlocal Future, scifi writer Bruce Sterling's brilliant bit of not-so-speculative fiction (in the July issue of Wired), should be required reading, not just for those in IT, but especially for those on the business side of the house.
Sterling's short story, presented as a collection of blog posts from ten years in the future, provides a glimpse into the "hyperlocal" world of Harvey Feldspar, an interactive technologies consultant and conference speaker:
You see, the difference between the old-fashioned semantic Web and the new hyperlocal Web -- that's hyper as in linked, and local as in location -- is that the databases of the new Web are stuffed with geographic coordinates. Real positions. Real distances. So the bodyware I carry in my pockets and travel bag broadcasts its location to any device within earshot. (Of course, the RFID chips embedded in everything help the manufacturer get it out the door, but I programmed my own tags so I can't lose anything.) Roomware -- that's houseware to you troglodytes who still live in houses -- is the stuff that runs a hotel room. You know, the remotes that control temperature and unlock the liquor cabinet, plus the window overlay that displays the weather forecast and traffic conditions. Streetware is my mobile's navigator, plus social tags, ad filters, and all those black-and-white barcode blotches painted on walls like graffiti. Cityware is the next scale up. That's how the local government monitors traffic, chases down leaky water mains, and keeps tourists on the straight and narrow. Stateware, nationware, globalware -- you get the idea.
In Harvey's world, super-smart, all-purpose handhelds are quickly replacing laptops and erasing the boundaries between the Internet and the real world, turning everyone and just about everything into a node on a dynamic, ubiquitous global network. (The Web version of the story includes a nice little Flash movie demo of Harvey's new handheld, a device that bears an unmistakable resemblance to the iPhone, but with features for which future consumers will gleefully stand in interminably long lines.) This is way cool stuff and, as the non-fiction call-outs that accompany the story illustrate, it's all based on currently available technologies. Tens years is not such a long time...
And that's why Sterling's story is important for anyone with any connection to business IT. While a great deal of the discussion about SOA, BPM, Web 2.0 and the rest of today's technological innovations is, by necessity, about helping companies to catch up to a massively transformed marketplace, Sterling's story serves as an entertaining and informative reminder that the pace of change in that marketplace will continue to accelerate. With that in mind, the greatest danger to any company is a failure of imagination, and the inability to visualize and act on the connection between today's fiction and tomorrow's fact.