832 days. I had to ask a search engine for the exact length of time because mentally it felt like only yesterday. 832 days since I wrote the third post in my short series on The Progression of Modern Software. So many things have changed since then and yet living in our current world feels as though almost nothing has changed. I decided I should re-read my posts. Not because I enjoy my own writing (quite the opposite; this was the hardest part of this experiment for me) but because I was curious to see how many of my thoughts in this series were accurate in describing the future of modern software.
Now, I figure, if I don't remember the details of my post as the author, I can hardly expect any reader to do so. But re-reading old posts is time-consuming. So here's what I did to make it easier for you to refresh your memory and entice you to make the quick trek back. New graphics. Each main point found in each post has a big, beautiful design. So quickly skim the posts, picking up the headings at the least. Then come back and we'll start thinking about the future.
They were beautiful weren't they? If you did what you were supposed to do, then you know what I'm talking about. Did you have a favorite? More importantly, now you are thinking about what I was thinking about as I evaluated my previous thoughts.
The user paid with their data instead of their dollars. This is the Social Data Era. We live still, for the most part, in this era.
True, we were heavy on all things social, and the 'gram was en route to reaching peak interest.
Users must begin to recognize they are paying with their digital lives each time they seek another “high.”
This one gave me chills. The comparison to dopamine and the effects on the body as an addict made me realize that indeed today we struggle with this narcotic effect. We also have the added struggle where the same drug (phone, tablet, technology) that we should limit our use of is the same device by which we do our jobs and work. Feels like being given the keys to a lambo and asked to deliver the mail. (True story, I wrote that sentence and thought, mmm, epic, performed quick search, sat in silence, appreciated the result. There's really nothing new under the sun.)
...I believe what we are seeing is indeed the beginning of the future. The next era in modern software has begun. The Blockchain Era.
I feel fairly comfortable calling this thought a win. We are absolutely in an era today where blockchain is discussed and implemented in more ways than we had ever imagined. (Need more convincing? Consider merely the topic of De-Fi.)
Unlike open source software, blockchain software ... are decentralized apps. This means not only is the code worked on and contributed to by many; but the software itself can be run by many. This achieves the maximum potential benefit imbued in the concept of "many."
Okay, we get it. Decentralized everything. Let's move on. Ultimately, I think we did an excellent job thinking about the right things all that time ago. Now, with that credibility established (I jest, of course), I'd ask you to consider with me our current situation and perhaps ponder some thoughts about the future once again.
You might be wondering what made me revisit old thoughts and evaluate my predictions. What was the catalyst for this rather unenjoyable task? Recently I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix. I imagine for most of you this is all the answer you need to fully understand the impetus which overtook me. If you have not yet watched this documentary I would highly recommend you do so (or find a summary to get the high points). At the risk of advertising, here's the trailer:
Now, consider if you will, I'm watching this with a slightly different perspective than I might have 5-7 years ago. This time I wasn't thinking only about my conscious decisions involving social media, but more tragically I think of my young, impressionable children and the world they face. The instant reaction is such a violent rejection of all technology I consider withdrawing them to the early renaissance lifestyle. Obviously a luddite approach denies them the equal opportunity for future success when they are independent adults one day and this feels equally recoil-worthy. There must be something missing. There must be some aspect, some factor we have not yet fully considered as we attempt to balance our relationship with technology.
This last sentence is where I have lived for the last 18 months. This is the mindset I have been plagued with almost without relent since last I wrote these thoughts. I have spent this time interestingly, to say the least. I had the privilege of witnessing a company I founded and a community I nurtured successfully transition into a new phase of growth. And I was blessed to take a few months to reflect and apply learnings for my personal growth. I can't encourage you strongly enough to seek out those times of reflection and self-evaluation for your own life. Even if it's not an extended time of contemplation, find small ways to constantly ensure your present path will help you accomplish your life goals.
In reality it wasn't very long at all (read Q1 2019) before those blog posts, my previous experiences with the amazing Mautic story, and the growing whispers surrounding cryptocurrency began to overwhelm my thoughts about our future. And so as I pondered our relationship with technology and applied my experiences, I started working on something new; but you'll have to wait to hear about that.
Compelled to Action
The result of thinking must be action (even if that action is decisive inaction). And so I realized there was something to be added to the story of the Progression of Modern Software. And I began to see what the missing piece was. You see, almost like a mantra, I kept repeating a phrase over and over in my mind, "There must be something missing in our relationship with software." And then I realized what I had done. In my study of technology, I had focused solely, exclusively, almost narrow-mindedly on the man-made creations and the progression or evolution of these creations. (Yep, I even highlighted and ignored this crucial factor in the very title of the post.)
But then things began to fall into place for me. This was when the bigger picture began to become quite clear and I saw what we have missed in our evolution of software and what is an absolute necessity for our future. We foolishly have neglected to consider perhaps the most valuable aspect of all: the relationship. By relationship I am referring to the relationship between the software and the user, also (and increasingly relevant) software to software, and finally the software to the world. As we considered adoption of new technologies, the power of new software to grow, and the resultant future of software we failed to consider the impact these evolutions would have on the relationship dynamic of everything interacting with the software.
Side Note: If you're still skeptical on the validity of the relationship, look no further than the entire fields of User Experience, and the latest identified software MVP: the customer experience. Yes, all these experiences are merely a proxy term for the relationship.
But this consideration requires us to turn our attention towards this topic of relationships and consider it in more depth. How is a relationship measured to be "good" or "bad"? Upon further thought, a relationship's health isn't necessarily binary but rather a full spectrum, or range. What defines a relationship? What is the concept universally relevant to relationships of various types which should be included as we merge this study of "relationships" with the progression of software? I would suggest there is a common element tying all these sundry software relationships together. Trust.
It's quite straightforward to recognize the importance and relevance of trust in any relationship (whether human-to-human or human-to-software). Trust is the secret. Trust is the core nucleus at the center of every relationship. When I first actually stopped and thought about this rather obvious fact, the sheer importance of trust as a factor in relationships and software, and therefore, the future of software, I was left rather dumbstruck. It's so ridiculously simple it feels embarrassing to admit my delay in realizing. As is often the case, the more obvious a discovery appears in hindsight the more powerful will be the result in the present and future.
Return with me then to the most recent documentary. Maybe it would have been best to watch it at this point but either way I am quite certain there are voices and testimonies ringing even now in your ears as you consider the concept of trust in relationships in light of The Social Dilemma. No one denies we have created algorithms and software systems more complex and more programmatically convoluted than any human could understand or fully comprehend. We have built artificial intelligences (AI) and the other commonly associated field machine-learning (ML) systems capable of consuming data and spitting out probabilities and statistics about individuals with a terrifying degree of accuracy. There is simply more computational power available to the software than a human mind. And as these systems have evolved, so has our relationship to them. In an almost imperceptible swipe, the relationship between software and user has taken on new importance, because we have unwittingly (and undeservedly) given these software systems our trust.
This becomes one of the most overwhelming themes shared in the documentary. We have created something beyond our comprehension and now we trust it. And we trust it with increasing frequency and magnitude. This evolution is not slowing down. There is a cliff coming if we do not immediately identify and adapt to this situation. I'm not preaching doom and gloom on AI, not in the slightest; rather I would promote those efforts where a symbiotic relationship, is accomplished between human and software (AI). I subscribe to the concept that a hybrid future is the most logical and most sustainable future. But while I might save the theory, key points, supporting points, and rebuttals for a different thought post; please consider the conclusion regardless: Trust is paramount to life. If this factor of the equation is not duly considered and accommodated for in our software progression then we face a most threatening future for the human race.
At this point we've reached what I would consider to be at least a partial consensus (or you would have stopped reading). Trust is important and we must consider this the next critical era in the evolution of modern software.
I recognize there are multiple variations and implications surrounding "trust" in software. We have "permissions" and the associated trusted access, we have "trusted" networks, connections, even trust protocols, while others have tried to define trust as a score which could be patented. Trust can take on many shapes and involve many different actions. I've come to some strong conclusions in this regard and it's lead me to what I'm working on currently. I would love to share more but this post is not the place. (You can subscribe to get notified on new posts, I'll be posting some exciting things very soon.)
The Trust Era
I'll end this post with a simple call to attention. The progression of modern software is constantly evolving and changing, and as we enter the next era, the Trust Era, I'd ask you to consider your own relationship to the software (and the companies who write the software) that powers your life. Do you trust it?