5 Innovations That Could Shape the Future

By: Tim Young

There’s a scene in Noah Baumbach’s film While We’re Young in which a group of friends, in conversation, is trying to recall the name of the almond-based “candy that they sometimes make into pigs or little fruits.”

After a few seconds of thinking and a few failed attempts at recalling the word (“I want to say baklava, but that’s a Greek dessert…”), one character, played by Ben Stiller, reaches for his phone to look it up.

But that move is thwarted by his conversation mates, a couple of idealistic young hipsters who suggest they try to remember it on their own, insisting that looking it up is too easy. And when that fails, the young man played by Adam Driver suggests an alternative to Googling. “Let’s just not know what it is.” 

This attitude takes its place alongside the couple’s other deliberately anachronistic quirks—eschewing laptops in favor of typewriters, watching movies on a small-screen tube TV with a built-in VCR, choosing secondhand clothes and old ten-speeds and vinyl records—to display their preference for impractical quaintness over modern efficiency.

But for a couple of 25-year-old urban Americans, the idea that information isn’t immediately accessible online is as stylishly vintage as a mid-century hi-fi or a forty-year-old Bowie t-shirt. And that film was made in 2014. I, for one, had only had a smartphone for four or five years. But in that time, the notion of just not knowing–of not reaching for instantly available information—had become so anachronistic as to be charming.

That twee slice of life can be a reminder that such a banal act—searching for “marzipan”—relies on innovations and infrastructures that only reached maturity a decade or two ago and that are now so ubiquitous that the idea of not using them is played for laughs.

Today’s innovation is tomorrow’s ubiquity. And it's technology that gets us there.

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When we talk about the Internet of Things, there’s an instinct to visualize connected refrigerators and smart parking meters. These are the sorts of use cases that were trotted out when IoT first started to gather momentum, and they still leap readily to mind. But there’s a heavy-duty world out there where IoT is making big, big waves.


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