Liveblog: Kate Stone on why the future will look more like the past

Tech is become so small it's all but invisible. When we become post-digital, where will we find connection, meaning — and resilience? Here are six ideas.

Warning: Live-blogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax. This post will be updated over the next few days.

Watch Kate Stone at NEXT22 on-demand

As a child, Kate would run wires around her house, and connect them up to microphones and speakers, starting her siblings. She hollowed out a book and hid a radio in it. She’s always been fascinated about creating experiences, and technology is only a path to that.

Currently, she’s really interested in printing and what you can do with conductive inks. You can make printed paper that plays sounds… Conductive ink on one side of the paper responds to touch on the other side. So, she turns paper into a musical instrument — or makes a standee for a US bank that announces superhero names and missions when you touch a superhero image.

This is about making the ordinary into something extraordinary.

For example, how about a notebook that plays notes? It has a foldout piano on the back cover that Bluetooths to your phone. You can compose music with your notebook, not just write it down in it.

Six insights into the future

As contemplated while sleeping on mountain tops, as bears prowl around…

1. Invisible Tech

She’s fascinated by how much space there is inside nothing. Tech has gone from being about the big to the small. When we make things tiny, we have an incredible amount of space to work with. During her PhD, she used a tool that could “write” with a 10 nanometre spot size. We can now make circuits patterned down to the wavelength of light. We can now fit more transistors on a grain of sand than we could on an entire beach when they were invented.

As tech gets small, it gets more powerful, but vanishes. She once injected a chip into her hand – and then used it as a hotel key. Useful for people like her brother who sleep naked, and thus runs the risk of being locked out of his hotel room without a key…

2. Nostalgia

We will crave the old more in future. We have amazing digital photography, yet some people like shooting with films cameras still. Some people like in imperfections of analogue technology. Imperfection is the hallmark of reality. The more we try to make things look perfect, the less real they look.

3. Friction

We often try to remove friction in a user journey. But friction can be very important. The more tech we add, and the more we no longer need to do, and that removes our agency. Friction – the need to do something – is often what makes life meaningful. It slows you down and brings you into the moment. There’s good friction and bad friction. Some frustrates, and some create meaning.

4. Mind

We have an inner mind in our body, and an outer mind in the world around us. A mind is what you use to think, so, if you have your best thoughts in the shower or on a walk, that’s part of your mind.

A spider uses its web as part of its mind, so if you remove it from it, you’re cutting it off from part of its mind. We’ve done that to ourselves, by isolating ourselves from the outdoors and nature. If we remembered that, we might design our workplaces, our schools, and even our prisons differently. When we design a product, we become mind surgeons, as we’re changing how people will think.

5. Resourcefulness

Attending a conference where there was no plant-based food, and everything was served in plastic containers, encouraged Kate to try to change her diet to reduce waste. She grinds her grain, grows things using hydroponics. It’s a little extreme – but it makes her happy.

Her gran always said that you should cut your coat from the cloth you have – so she attempts to meet her needs from the things around her. That makes you resilient to change or shocks like the pandemic. We’re feeling that now, as we suffer from the shocks of supply chain failure. We’ve become too dependent on things made far away.

6. Community

She bought and got training in using a radio because she spends time in the wild. One day, someone asked everyone in range to radio out their call sign and talk for a few moments. What a remarkable sense of community. We need to connect with as many different people from us as possible to build a strong, resilient society.

The quietest person in the room might have the most valuable insights.

A better future

Right now, we’re flying through the universe in a ship which has two vital garages: mental health and environment. Both are in the red. If we want a good future, we need no change that.

Kate is the founder and Chief Technology Officer of Novalia whose passion is creativity and blending art, science, design, and technology.