Well, here’s what I do. I read stories, listen to the news, see what people around me are doing, and then I choose a specific area to consider. So let’s go with social media, and run it through the check-list. Is it super-hyped right now? Check. Is everyone talking about how it will change the world forever and none of us will ever be the same? Check. Has it done anything particularly disruptive so far? Not really. So what does that mean in 10 years? It means that at that time everything will have changed noticeably and we should be figuring out what that will look like right now.
So don’t restrict yourself to thinking about what the technology is right now and how we use it. You need to think in more generic terms than that. First, what is different between twitter and its closest look-alikes – text messages, blogs, and email. Well, the difference is you can only send short messages (or posts), they go to anyone who is potentially listening (generally – there are of course DMs as well), and they tell the public who you are or what you are doing or thinking about. But those aren’t the only things twitter is similar to. It is also similar to google-searching, but instead of asking an indexed set of pages something about what you are looking for, you instead are asking anyone who is listening a certain question in the total set of active and indexed brains at that moment. So, in many ways, twitter is a communication tool, but it is also a specialized recommendation engine. It is like hunch but instead of asking a cluster analyzed data-set you are literally publicly asking everyone you know socially (and people you don’t know) for advice, or a product, or help of some kind.
So, long term, what does that mean? It means that more than ever we will be connected to a greater web of people. But right now you also have to ask why are people helping each other so much through twitter? Is it because we are fundamentally helpful? I think the answer is no. I think the answer actually lies in the fact that we are fundamentally selfish, and currently, because no one knows for sure how this all will play out, you get people being as helpful as possible because they gain status by doing so (whether in the form of followers, or a higher klout score, or any other measure you can think of that exists currently). Moreover, they can get wealth – because everyone is talking about social media and why your company needs it, companies are going out and looking to hire people who can show them how to do exactly that.
Remind you of anything? Seems a lot like the late 90’s when every company needed a website and would pay practically anything to get some skin in the game. And of course we had a bubble and a crash and, lo and behold, 10 years later, you really do need a website and some skin in the game. Remember, we tend to think the world changes forever very quickly, but in truth, it takes some time for the world to become fundamentally different.