Two key points before we start – the first is that anyone who tries to forecast the future is doomed and the second is that nothing here should be taken as having any official status at all. This is me thinking aloud
With that out of the way, here are some idle thoughts on the implications of technology as a driver of social change over the next couple of decades.
The Commercial Property Market is doomed
See those big office blocks? Why do they exist? Because the work done by the organization requires people to be closely colocated? Because the resources they need are in one place? Because it is more efficient?
In most cases none of those are true today and definitely not in 2029. Anyone who has ever worked in a corporate environment knows that there are only 3 things needed to work – information, tools and people.
Information used to mean paper files – vast acres of boxfile plantations filling the land. But now information means a search engine and a memory stick.
Tools used to mean filing clerks, huge mainframe computers and typists. Now tools mean a laptop and wifi.
People used to mean … well what did people mean? Performance management was performance observation, serried ranks of people meant a diary full of update meetings and make work meetings. Think about how often you actually need to talk to people at work for real work related purposes, how many people you actually need to talk to and how many times it wouldn’t have just been easier to call, email or Tweet them?
Half the people reading this post will think it is obvious, they do not have offices or they just use short term touchdown or shared space. The other half will say that they are obviously looking at things like “hotdesking” to reduce demand for office space, but without challenging the essential concept of the office.
For most organizations, accommodation is the second biggest item of corporate expenditure after staff. Why are we spending that money? How long can we afford to spend that money?!
The HQ office is sacrosanct, we need those marble halls. It is a visible symbol of our corporate strength.
The office building is a dinosaur, it is like the battleship of a century ago, staggering onwards because of ego, tradition and self-interest. But like all dinosaurs, it is doomed.
Not all offices will go of course, they will survive in schools, universities, hospitals – anywhere where the purpose is either to work with people or, like museums, to work with objects.
But the general purpose office which makes up so much of any city landscape cannot survive.
So what happens to Canary Wharf? What happens to the revenues from rates and the jobs in supporting these land leviathans?
The city is a beach
What will the world be like when you can just look at an object and find out what it is? When you can change how you see the outside world so beggars or the poor never appear in your line of sight? When we are continuously wired?
So far we have separated World 1 – the real world, and World 2 – the online world but we are now starting to overlay them to create World 1.5 – the hybrid world.
Take something like Google Streetview – it’s an online representation of the real world overlaid with digital information. At the moment it sits on a computer screen but the next step is for computer screens to merge with glasses. So far, so old school cyberpunk but we can already see the first steps with iPhone apps that display information over live video feeds of your surroundings.
These feel clunky but what if it is in your glasses? Your contact lenses? A constantly updated reversioning of what you see. The glowing line that links you to your destination, continually adjusting to show you the way to go. The obscuring of sights you do not want to see. The ability to “Bing-o” anyone you see.
World 1.5 becomes a way of either seeing more clearly or, more likely, not seeing at all.