What’s next?

In an age of big data, of digital ubiquity and mass surveillance - what comes NEXT? The build up to NEXT 14 starts here…

What’s next?

It’s a perennial question, and one that our NEXT conferences seek to answer. The majority of tech conferences focus on what’s happening now, on explaining what the latest developments mean. But you can do more than that. The future isn’t a blank slate – it’s being written already, in the present. What we are doing now sets the stage for what we’ll be doing in the future, and, if you look closely enough, and with enough context, you can make some pretty intelligent guesses about what’s coming next.

In 2011, we themed the conference around Data Love – taking an early look at movements like Big Data and the quantified self that are now starting to find mainstream expression. Big Data is a buzzword carried in the press, and discussed at non-tech conferences. It’s become a reality of business, and is increasingly finding its way into our personal lives, as device like the FitBit or Nike Fuelband appear on more and more wrists.

In 2012, we explored what the world would look like in a post-digital state – when the technology stops being interesting, and all the attention shifts to what you can do with it. We live in a world where Apple announcements are both covered in the most mainstream of venues – but also are criticised for being boring. It appears that the post-digital world might already be with us – it’s just not evenly distributed yet. That’s completely understandable. There’s only so long you can be excited by a shiny new version of the phone you’ve had for years. My excitement at getting my new iPhone 5s was short lived. My pleasure in the quality of photos and videos I can shoot with it is proving much more durable. Our relationship with our gadgets is maturing. Our tech is growing up – post-digitally.

Then, earlier this year, we pointed out that when you’re on the internet, well, Here Be Dragons. I don’t think any of us truly expected how very quickly that would be proved right. The revelations of Edward Snowdon through Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian newspaper in the UK have blown open the doors on a dragon none of us expected. The NSA, with the support of various other covert bodies and the big companies we all know and use, have been engaged in a wholesale monitoring programme of internet traffic. The revelations seem to keep coming, with the most recent that the US had been bugging the phone of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Germany is an ally of the US. This, of course, was the dark side of data love. Anything that’s powerful can be used for good – and for ill. Our own big data is being turned against us. Here be dragons indeed.

So, what’s Next? We can reject the obvious candidates – because, if they’re obvious, they’re not next. They’re now. Lots of current trends fall into that category: mobile, social, local. It’s all been done. Robert Scoble gave a compelling talk about the Age of Context at the most recent NEXT, but that’s in many ways a new blending of Data Love and Post-Digital. It’s the next becoming the now again.

So, again I ask, what’s NEXT? Well – we’re working on that right now. If you have your own ideas – and you have spotted the seeds of the future planted in the present, then get in contact. We’d love to hear your thoughts. If now, well, watch this space. We’ll have some news for you very soon…

Update: And here you are – save the date for NEXT14: May 5-6