We’ve Got To Embrace It, Man

First, understand that as an employee of AOL, I’m embarrassed but far more amused by our “digital prophet,” David Shing AKA Shingy AKA Miley Scissorhands. His efforts to make AOL look cool have, at best, made us look like absolute idiots. Remember, we’re not all him, but sadly he represents us.

Here’s my biggest problem: Shing’s future is not the real future. Shing’s future is a Best Buy full of SD cards and thin TVs, wafer-thin MP3 players in your hip pocket, and countless opportunities for corporate media to engage with customers.

To wit: this video on Valleywag – which is arguably only a selection from Shing’s longer presentation – embodies everything that I hate in Valley “thought leadership.” In his world the future is not a concrete, messy place full of uncertainty and promise. It is instead a sleek, Jefferson Starship of easy-listening music and hypnotic platitudes.

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The problem is not that Shing bops around the world talking about driving dogs and embracing video and sound and platforms and wi-fi-enabled cats. That’s well within his rights and I’ve been known to look into the far future and sigh meaningfully. However, in an era of unprecedented change and some very real problems facing some very real people, this sort of unabashed Faith Popcorn-era big-think gibberish is dated at best and damaging at worst.

If you think this is how real change in the technology ecosystem is made, please stop. The TED Talks future is fun and often makes for a good story, but the actual future is messy and is full of possible near dystopias. If you’re not offering to help you’re basically standing on the sidelines emoting. Your startup doesn’t have to save kittens in war-torn countries to do good. But it does have to work in the context of everyday life and improve on the human condition.

A tech conference in Amsterdam featuring endless presentations about the future of this or that is an ideal place for a personage like Shing. The context of his presentation is missing here as is the room size, the audience (maybe this was a lunch-time thing?). It’s probably unfair to rant on his goofiness without that context, but this is the Internet and I’m exhausted by our own Digital Prophet. If he can talk about the bright future of purple, why can’t I talk about the dead future of blue-sky visioneering?

In short, he pretends to understand the hard work of technologists, engineers, and programmers and falsely connects their important (and sometimes unimportant) work with futuristic mumbo jumbo. He’s why people hate technology. Because he presents it as a poetry slam and not as a tool.