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Ben Hammersley: Spells The Grey Out in Black and White

 MBFBlog Review: An occasional series of reviews on exhibitions, books, films of interest to MailBigFile clients and readers. This one, 64 Things You Need to Know Now for Then (How to Face the Digital Future Without Fear) by Ben Hammersley.

Hammersley, coiner of the phrase ‘podcasting’ is the editor-at-large of the UK version of Wired magazine and his book is a guided tour through the mysteries of contemporary technology and where he sees it going in terms of impact on our daily lives, business, politics and culture.

Aimed at those who are techno-savvy but also at those who are informed but perhaps confused, it’s not a swivelled-eyed sci-fi story of robots and parallel universes. It points out that the immediate future is already visible.

He starts by confirming that it is the internet that is the instrument of the revolutions (in the ‘ways we work, live and love’). It has ‘turned the rules of business’ upside down, destroying every business it encounters, and then, he says, rebuilding it in its own image.

The Last Bastions Against Change

Hammersley argues that the modern world divides into the techno-literate and the rest. The people who control the levers of power are generally among the rest. These are businesses and/or governing people who think social media is only for their children and grandchildren.

They have yet to cotton on to the way people now demand that their opinions are heard and taken account of. How crowd-sourcing and the empowerment of the consumer through technology are not yet grasped by leaders.

Hammersley believes government ‘will have to start thinking like a brand’ as they compete for people’s attention in an increasingly busy world.
The advent of what the smartphone can do in terms of shopping with all the instant information that is available, has not truly rocked the powers that be. But all these things will hit them hard, they are unavoidable.


Politicians who give lip service to ‘collaboration’ will be shaken, he believes, as the true extent of what is possible with shared working, problem solving and collective actions hits home.

He cites the use of the captcha tests now widely used to separate out the humans from the robots on websites. Google’s version is ReCaptcha, which has been used to help solve old mysteries that computers cannot, because the human touch is still valued.

He says that ‘web users unwittingly helped to digitise 20 years’ worth of The New York Times’ in two months, a fragment at a time, humans sorting distorted images into clear letters and numbers.

The Quantified Self

A movement has arisen in which some people have been using their smartphones to measure their physical health during day and night, through headbands. Hammersley reckons it’s ‘about to go mainstream’ with apps that monitor temperature, diet, calories taken and burned off, smoking, alcohol and even the mental state.

The potential for disease treatment in the future is enormous, for example, for diabetics. Using QR codes anybody will know the calorific, protein, fat, origins, production history of everything on their plates.

That it will feed the fantasies of the hypochondriacs too, may not matter overmuch. It’s just the sort of thing to catch on.

He predicted that 3D printers will get even more advanced, enabling all sorts of things to be recreate or re-engineered from people’s homes with a consequential revolution in manufacturing industries.

He acknowledges that copying something you like will have ‘serious ramifications for copyright law’. However, he says legislation has always struggled to keep up with the pace of technology and ‘it’s a battle that technology will win.’

Untamable Internet

Hammersley’s view is that censorship on the internet is ultimately impossible. He does not accept it is feasible for governments to read mass emails and maintains that any attempt to ban online anonymity is ‘misguided.’ The ability to remain anonymous on the web is a ‘huge social good.’
People will decide what is and what is not acceptable social behaviour, he thinks. When footage is posted online that outrages, ‘the human flesh search engine’ will track down the perpetrators and who took the footage using clues from the videos.

Which rather defeats the point about online anonymity, but never mind. It’s a good read, nonetheless.

Ben Hammersley, digital guru on YouTube
Ben Hammersley, webpage
3D Printer in action
Image: Benhammersley