It is always wise to look ahead

As my first MIDEA post what subject would I choose other than the Horizon Project?

Horizon Report Covers

I have a number of quotes about predicting the future. My favorite used to be:

“Prediction is difficult, especially about the future”

Pithy, and because its such a good quote its attributed to a wide variety of people from Niels Bohr to Yogi Berra. It offers a great escape clause for the quoter in that what they are about to say might be valueless. I don’t think what I’m about to say is valueless, so I’ll go for something that more accurately defines crystal-ball gazing, courtesy of Winston Churchill:

“It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see”

And so it is with the Horizon Report, a wise look at technologies for the educational and museum spaces that Holly and others have blogged about and probably familiar to you if you are reading this post – in the unlikely event that you are not familiar, follow this link. Hopefully you have read the 2011 reports and consumed the previous ones, but what you may not have done is look back to the future and the wealth of content that the Horizon program represents.

So, for your viewing pleasure, I’ve created a matrix of all the horizon reports for higher education and museum technologies from 2004 to 2011 in an attempt to summarise the horizon program’s prior and ongoing contribution and of course its validity as a predictive tool. The matrix is deftly color-coded into past, present and future, so that you can quickly see what has been, what should be and what to expect.

A matrix of the Horizon Reports, 2006-2011

Any naysayers out there questioning the program’s accuracy? Look at the earliest report that reaches the present. In 2007 the report predicted Emerging Forms of Publication as one of its 4-5 year timeframes. Dang.

It was hard not to miss Apple’s announcement of iBooks Author. There have been many bold claims about what the impact will be – I think it will be disruptive and far-reaching but not in the way that Apple is claiming – I’ll save those thoughts for a subsequent post.

The previous year’s report (2006) predicted Context-Aware Environments and Devices for its 4-5 year horizon – last year. Again… Dang. My favorite Christmas present last year was a Nest, the ultimate context-aware gadget for my environment. OK, its a thermostat, but stay with me, its a sensor driven, wifi-enabled, programmable thermostat from Nest Labs.

The company was started by Tony Fadell who led the team that created the first generations of the iPod and the first few generations of the iPhone. Consequently, its an awesome piece of technology, in addition to knowing what your house temperature is, it learns your habits, knows where you live and what the outside temperature is too. More importantly, the installation did not involve multiple trips to Home Depot. Not even one. However a word of caution, in the same spirit as the advice not to gamble unless you can afford to lose the money, don’t watch the video unless you can afford the $250 price tag.

These represent two examples of what should be the riskiest of the three horizon predications. They were spot on, but its hardly surprising given the people and the process that creates one of these reports. Take time to review the committees that comprise the report that you read – MVPs of the higher education and museum technology communities. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: So what’s Honeysett doing on the 2011 committee? Well that’s where the process comes in – those individuals with bizarre outlying predictions and pet technology interests get weeded out through a voting process.

As a repeat offender on the advisory board for the museum edition, it occurred to me on a number of occasions that the report is actually a self-fulfilling prophecy because the board is made up of people making decisions about what technology strategies and turns their institution will take. Will we actually create the future we are predicting?

I know, right? Messes with your head. Particularly when you think of the Hollywood version of that scenario and whether Larry J is Marty McFly or maybe Doc? Sorry, I digress with a second meaningless pop culture reference to Back to the Future. (It could have been worse, you know Terminator has the same plot?… so that would make Larry…)

The horizon project is a wise and indispensable tool particularly if you’re a museum technologist. Even if you’re not but want to advance your institution’s use of current or emerging technologies to engage your audience, send it to the person in your institution that makes those decisions. But if this stuff really interests you, read the project wikis. Just because a technology didn’t make it to the final six to be described in the published report, doesn’t mean it wasn’t or isn’t important. Quite the contrary.

The wikis are accessible for a reason.  They have the why’s and wherefore’s of the technologies that made it and the one’s that didn’t. If you or your institution is looking to make a technology-related decision, consult the wiki – its like having a discussion with 30 museum technology professionals – without the embarrassment of first requesting to connect with them on LinkedIn, sending an email, etc, etc.

Click here for the 2011 Museum Edition technology discussions.

Click here for the 2011 Higher Education technology discussions.

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