Our journey into the future of technology begins with the past. Writer and cultural theorist Ken Hollings guides this 6-episode audio series by Tomorrow Unlocked.

The past is the future

The pace of technological change is dizzying. We herald the newness of each platform, software and machine. In this first episode of our new audio series Fast Forward, broadcaster and cultural theorist Ken Hollings suggests it’s a good time to stop running around the labyrinth and find our way by retracing our steps. The past tells all about the present, and the future.

Humanity stays on track, to a fault

In this episode of Fast Forward, writer, data engineer and Associate Professor of English at University of Michigan, Tung-Hui Hu, points to the phenomenon of path tendency: The way new infrastructure tends to follow the paths of older infrastructure. His book Prehistory of the Cloud saw him looking deeply into the cloud’s origins. It seems fiber optic cables trace the paths of telegraph cables, which followed railways. And the problems of these past forms of communication and travel repeat themselves in cloud quirks and bottlenecks.

So how do we do better? “One of the biggest problems is the idea that technology is the solution to technology’s problems: Just iterate, and get this next version of technology to fix things. What we really need is someone to think about its context: Where it exists in history, how it exists with culture,” says Tung-Hui Hu.

Data highways jammed with private histories

And how much of the cloud is made up of personal but largely obsolete data, like holiday snaps from ten years ago, or the business equivalent of the same? Fast Forward talks with Kaspersky Security Researcher David Emm, who points to unsettling recent research that involved buying a stack of used devices on eBay and scouring them for private data. Just 11 percent of the devices had been securely erased. It’s that bad.

Emm says, “People thinking about what they do with technology before they dispose of it is really, really important. Criminals are very interested in the data businesses store, which is why we see data breaches. They’re trying to capture sensitive information.”

Tending the digital garden

MIT Technology Review’s Senior Reporter Tanya Basu suggests a new way of thinking about our digital lives might help us better control personal information online, avoid social media back-biting and, well, grow – a digital garden.

“A lot of people building these digital gardens are very interested in reshaping what we accept as normal when it comes to engaging online,” says Tanya.

This budding trend looks set to blossom, but if you’re unclear what a digital garden even is, Tanya’s description on Fast Forward is second to none, so put your ear to the rabbit hole and you’ll probably find yourself going all the way down.

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