Back in 1998, Nicholas Negroponte published ‘Beyond Digital’, Wired (issue 6.12, December) in which he predicted that “digital-ness” would just become part of the wallpaper: “Its literal form, the technology, is already beginning to be taken for granted, and its connotation will become tomorrow’s commercial and cultural compost for new ideas. Like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only by its absence, not its presence”. Referencing the “horseless carriage”, Negroponte is clearly drawing on the notion of “disruptive technology” first coined by Christensen and Bower in ‘Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave’ in 1995. Suggesting that we hadn’t even reached “base camp” in the Digital Age, Negroponte, nevertheless understood that whilst digital technology was busy disrupting every facet of human life, it would soon become so banal as to disappear:
“Computers as we know them today will a) be boring, and b) disappear into things that are first and foremost something else: smart nails, self-cleaning shirts, driverless cars, therapeutic Barbie dolls, intelligent doorknobs that let the Federal Express man in and Fido out, but not 10 other dogs back in. Computers will be a sweeping yet invisible part of our everyday lives: We’ll live in them, wear them, even eat them. A computer a day will keep the doctor away”.
Whilst Negroponte heralds the end of the digital revolution, Yochai Benkler (2006), The Wealth of Networks suggests that its repercussions are still ongoing: “It seems passé today to speak of “the Internet revolution.” In some academic circles, it is positively naïve. But it should not be. The change brought about by the networked information environment is deep. It is structural. It goes to the very foundations of how liberal markets and liberal democracies have coevolved for almost two centuries“ (1).