March 2013 Observations
Looking Back on the Future of Printing
By Jim Lyons
While attending the HP Analyst Summit in Boston, MA, at the beginning of March, I had several déjà vu moments that brought together the past, present, and future. As I researched the event for an upcoming Observations post (stay tuned for April’s), I encountered some general sources that included some industry-specific mentions that I thought I would share.
Twenty-five years ago, an article from the LA Times Magazine predicted what the year 2013 would hold. A University of Southern California professor, Jerry Lockenhour, recently tasked his class with assessing just what in the article did come true and what didn’t. An article on the professor’s process is described in an LA Times piece by Bob Pool, and a follow-up story, “2013, as Imagined by Futurists in 1988,” by Zak Stone, which appears on Fast Company’s co.existhttp://www.fastcoexist.com/ Web site, goes into some of the details of the class’s findings, including some related to printing. I recommend both stories for further reading, but the printing parts are especially worthy of highlighting here because they are related to the print-on-demand story I am writing about HP’s Analyst Summit.
In his article, Stone mentions two categories that the original article got “right,” including “Smart Houses” and “GPS and the computerization of cars.” As a recent buyer (and now fan) of the “Nest” smart thermostat, I have to agree with Stone’s comments about the automated home category. Also, cars clearly have become more computerized, with self-driving vehicles predicted for the near future.
|My Nest thermostat has made me a believer that the smart home of the future has arrived|
In the “wrong” category are two items, one of which brings to mind the Jetson’s “Rosey the Robot,” i.e., “Ubiquitous robo-servants and robo-pets.” I took special notice of the other one, “home-printed newspapers.” Stone describes how “the article also predicts that each morning the [fictional Morrow family’s] laser-jet printer would automatically print off a feed of news stories most interesting to them.” But the wrong part, Stone continues, is that “while the way people read the news has certainly gotten more personal, the most common medium of delivery would be the smartphone, not the printer.” This is something that many of us are thinking about and discussing these days. Stone offers an alternative, and wraps up by saying, “this tiny printer that prints you a tiny newspaper might mean this is coming.” He also includes a link to a Fast Company story on the Berg Little Printer, a favorite of Observations (see “Lessons from the Little Printer That Went Viral”).
Readers following my advice to read both the LA Times and Fast Company articles will appreciate a little of the ambiguity on display in my summary above. Determination of a black-or-white, true-or-untrue conclusion over whether specific predictions have come to pass isn’t necessarily as easy as it might seem. We’ll see more evidence of this in my next column.
I entered the professional world decades ago with an undergraduate degree in quantitative methods. My first “real job” was in sales forecasting back in the late 1970s. Of course, statistical methods used in forecasting are based on modeling historical trends and patterns and then applying them to the future. A bit later, I earned by MBA in marketing and econometrics, and I re-entered the work force in the high-tech industry. I fell back into sales forecasting roles with a newly found interest in going beyond the numbers to identify what was most likely to happen in the future based on qualitative elements as well.
Having played the role—at least a small one—of a “futurist” during much of my career, I was also interested in an article that recently appeared on the Business Insider Web site. In “Everyone Is A Futurist Now,” guest writer Scott Smith of Quartz makes some great points, but I was most interested in his discussion of Ray Kurzweil (whom I wrote about in my October Observations) and of 3D printing, which he includes as a futurist topic du jour along with “drones, algorithms gone wild, augmented reality, and smart cities.” As his article’s title suggests, Smith’s main assertion is that we all own the future and insights into what it will hold.
There is plenty of material out there about the future—what we thought it would be and are now living, and what really will follow in the next years and decades. It is fascinating stuff, especially for those of us in the printing and imaging industry.