The Technium

Not Future-Proofing

Twenty years ago when I built my studio and remodeled other parts of our house I spent a lot of time and money in installing ethernet lines and phone cables throughout the rooms. Back then phones (what we now call land lines) used copper wires, as they had for generations, and ethernet was the up-coming standard. So I installed ethernet into the walls of the studio with ethernet outlets everywhere. And at some expense I had a technician install ethernet into the walls of our old house. Finally in an attempt at future proofing, I had the contractor lay some empty conduit pipes in the walls for future wires.

Of course what has happened since is wireless. Wifi, mobile, and bluetooth have taken over and none of the wires I so expensively put into the walls are used. And the one place in my office I still use wires — my desktop — the existing cat5 ethernet cable was not fast enough for the new speeds of fiber optic. It turned out it was easier to run a new cable outside of the house for the fiber optic connection, so my internal conduit was not used.

This has made me question whether it is possible to future proof things. Maybe I am better off not trying to anticipate the future by installing anything but just assuming that I’ll have to add tech later adhoc.

I am trying to think of examples of successful future proofing. Where someone figured out what was coming and built something ready for it. Do you know any examples?

If I simply focus on connectivity: What will arrive after the current wifi and cat9 and fiber optic I now have? It could be 5g with many repeaters. Even if that is accurate is there anything I can do today to help that? How would I get ready for 5g?

Stewart Brand promotes the idea of the building that learns. You can’t predict what it will be used for, therefore you can’t pre-build stuff anticipating its future use. But you can construct a building, a working space, a living space that is easy to adapt to new uses. It learns rather than predicts.

So my new approach should not be to build in anticipations. Rather I should build in changeability; to make it as easy as possible to retrofit, to remodel, to re-work. Figure there will be the need to add stuff, or move things and make it easier to do so. In that respect installing pipes or wires or brackets are hindrances rather than helps.

I’ve learned to do this with purchasing tech. I no longer purchase any device or machinery based on my expectation of what I might use it for in the future. Like, I’ll get lots of storage, or RAM, or pixels because I will need X in the future. I have learned that my prediction rarely works out, because I usually want/need something different than what I thought. Maybe speed turns out to be more important than storage, or screen size more important than resolution. So, now when I am shopping for tech — whether computers, cars, appliances, tools — I buy for my immediate needs.

That realization led me to another epiphany: I buy stuff only at the last minute. Since tech is always improving, it makes no sense to buy anything before you need it. Don’t get anything that is on an improvement curve before you are going to use it day by day. Get it five minutes before you need it.

So my stance is reduced to this: Wait for the tech and the future to arrive, and then adapt and commit as necessary. Consider this Just-in-Timing, rather than Future Proofing.



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