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If we could show you the future…

The Future

would you walk all over it?

Back in the day, at the agency where I was working, we were pleased with this mailer to the customers of a flooring manufacturer announcing their new website.


Those were the days – when you sent out a mailer to tell people you had a website. In a world of contradictions, perhaps not a huge one. (And maybe, as the virtual world becomes ever more omnipresent, a return to actual letters and real mail may re-emerge as a useful way of differentiation).

But, in our increasingly digital-first world, it’s not only the paranoid who are questioning whether the future may be threatening to walk all over us – rather than the other way around.

The Circle

In Dave Eggers recent novel, The Circle,  he presents a dystopian view of the future in which social participation and connectedness allows for the individual’s entire day to be totally monitored. No choice or action goes unrecorded, as ‘Circlers’ joyfully embrace their social media duties – or opportunities:

“See, you’re getting all last week’s stuff, too. That’s why there’s so many. Wow, you really missed a lot.”

Mae followed the counter to the bottom of the screen, calculating all the messages sent to her from everyone else at the Circle. The counter paused at 1,200, Then 4,400. The numbers scrambled higher, stopping periodically but finally settling at 8,276.

“That was last week’s messages? Eight thousand?”

“You can catch up,” Gina said brightly. Maybe even tonight. Now, let’s open your regular social account. […]”

Whilst it is explicitly NOT about Google, the recent claim by (Google CEO) Larry Page that fear of data-mining of healthcare may be costing as many as 100,000 lives a year could be straight out of the pages of The Circle.

Managing to be both hilarious and chilling,  The Circle is essentially a 1984 for the digital age.  With the twist that this time it’s not a political regime but a commercial enterprise that is making the bid for total control. And making headway fast in that direction.

[You could describe it as the author looking at the world around him and asking not ‘What would Google do?‘ but ‘What would George Orwell think?’]

Once you ‘go clear’ (Eggers appropriates a term from Scientology), the only escape from the all-seeing eyes of your ‘watchers’ is the bathroom, and then only for 3 minutes or your watchers will begin to bombard you with their concerns for your health. And of course you can’t visit the bathroom too often or you will provoke a similar torrent of concern.

But nothing is ever enough for The Circle in its voracious desire to be your friend, and every shard of privacy and autonomy is under threat in its bid to get inside your head and make you a passenger in your own life – for which the perfect metaphor, and the perfect vehicle, is the driverless car.

You can’t drive over a cliff if you’re not at the wheel. “If my thought dreams could be seen…” as Dylan sang all those years ago.

Day 1

In a recent profile in The Observer, hung on the launch of the Fire phone, I discovered the ‘Day 1’ obsession of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and his view – expressed in a recent letter to shareholders – ‘that we haven’t even reached Day 1 of the internet yet. That the “alarm clock hasn’t even gone off yet” and that the world is “still asleep” to what the rest of Day 1 will bring.’

Founded 20 years ago (5 July 1994) as an online bookstore, Amazon clearly intends to become (if at all possible and as soon as possible) the shop for everything.

The  recently launched Fire Phone is, as The Observer reports, ‘the latest salvo in the great three-way tech battle between Amazon, Apple and Google. They want each other’s business and are, as suggested, “all turning into each other”.’

At the launch Bezos is reported to have spent as much time talking about Amazon Prime as he did talking about the phone – which is expected to lose £176m this year and up to £330m next year, according to analysts. To make up for this loss, each phone owner would have to spend £207 more on Amazon products than the average customer.

Someone has clearly done the math:

The average Prime member spends £719 a year on Amazon, £411 more than a regular user. Prime members’ purchases and membership fees make up more than a third of Amazon’s US profits. And membership is projected to rise 150%, to 25 million, by 2017.

The in-built network connectivity of the Kindle makes it easy to purchase books, and also means Amazon can ‘see’ not only what you are reading but where you have got to in the book. And now comes… Kindle unlimited – the equivalent of a streaming service for books and audiobooks.

Between us, ideas become reality indeed.


Book design Books Life

David Bowie and George Orwell meet in blank space

Blank space is the central theme in the design for two iconic works released this month.

The album cover for the thrilling and unexpected release of new music by David Bowie, with strong allusions to his Berlin period, is presented in a blanked out cover of Heroes:

Album cover for 'The Next Day' by David Bowie
Album cover for ‘The Next Day’ by David Bowie

In his post on the design, Jonathan Barnbrook writes

The obscuring of an image from the past is also about the wider human condition; we move on relentlessly in our lives to the next day, leaving the past because we have no choice but to. [read full text here]

In the new edition of George Orwell’s 1984 released to commemorate the inaugural ‘Orwell Day’ (today! 21 Jan 2013), the text is blacked out using matt black foil over debossed type, leaving just enough of an imprint for the reader to make out the words – and subtly communicating the idea that censorship and authoritarianism will never fully succeed in eradicating memory or possibility.

Cover for 1984 by George Orwell by David Pearson
Cover for 1984 by George Orwell by David Pearson

We can be heroes, for more than one day …