Interfaces and Stories

As Aaron Koblin, the data artist said, the 21st century is the century of the interface

And he's right. We have huge amounts of data sloshing around. It is growing geometrically and we know it. We throw around words and phrases like "algorithm," "data mining," "social graph," and the like as if we know what they mean. I don't really know what these terms mean exactly. I have an idea but, with exactitude I'm a little lost. Yes, we can analyze it all this data. Yes, we can make dashboards and build colorful analytic tools and record it and store it and make it watertight and immortal.

Yet, data fundamentally only has value once it can tell a story. what we do with the data is what matters.

And to make a story from data, maybe a multidisciplinary background is helpful. 

It is household knowledge that technology and applied science majors today command the highest starting salaries upon college graduation. That is true in America, Europe, and in China, where there is a pervasive emphasis on these hard types of degrees.

in China, for example, some type of applied science background appears to be necessary to lead the country, as a quick poll reveals that Jiang Zemin was an Electrical engineer, Hu Jintao a Hydro engineer, and Xi Jinping a Chemical engineer. As technocratic an imperative that these leaders operate under, they make enormous efforts to demonstrate their chops in rhetoric. To say one's calligraphy is important is a big understatement. 

The world needs hard-core technologists but a STEM person with a command of literary culture, a numbers guy steeped in history--my bet is these folks will be the natural storytellers for decades to come. 

On the demand side, global consumers will want ever more sophisticated mashups, whether content, or gadgetry or luxury consumer goods. What happens when you bring humanism to software coding? 

Technology as an end gets pretty boring. Electric cars are cool and, yeah even though they still need coal (mostly) to power the plants which send it its electricity, there are numerical and hard reasons they are more efficient, they are better for the environment, quieter, etc. But if they don't go places--who really cares? The electric car as a shrine to technology scratches a certain itch, but its not the main story.

Similarly, puurveying the best of the best? Boring. Only 30 year Macallen? Only Phantoms and Pateks? Miu Miu and Murcielago’s? Tame. This is all “fast following,” based on disciplines that are quantifiable. It kind of makes sense but, again, it's not the whole picture. 1) How much better is 20 year old Laphroaig vs. another relatively peaty 20 year old single malt? These are the mind games in the domain of the connoisseur; yet though they are fodder for anecdotes and quips and little stories, they can't be epics. 2) why scotch? Why do we drink? When to stop? These questions get heavy; but we need a blend of both. 

It's this tension between technology for technology's sake and technology as a means to some greater end where the most interesting stories are.

I do believe that the people driving the innovation often are enamored with the "how does it work" question. Maybe this is a prerequisite. But if they can take a tech-centered frame of mind and build products for a human-applicability-centered world, well, I bet those will be the data-rich + intuitive interfaces we want. There will be the medium for the story and maybe even the story itself.