The normative new and the galloping frontier

William Gibson is often cited for this insight: “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.” It’s a brilliant observation, and it leads to an interesting hypothesis: if we distribute the future more quickly, will it get here faster?

The answer is certainly yes. Here’s an example of what I mean.

Last September, two MIT students took $150 worth of parts, including a camera and a weather balloon, and built a rig that took pictures from 93,000 feet in the air. The story got a lot of press, and around the world many clever people said “Goodness gracious, how I desire to do that weather balloon thing too.”

So it was that I was surfing around the estimable SparkFun Electronics site and came across this item: High Altitude Balloon Launch. It’s the first in a seven part series that exhaustively instructs you on the art of building a high-altitude camera. At first I thought they were selling a do-it-yourself kit with all the parts included, but it hasn’t quite gotten that far yet. Nevertheless, this is a good example of the galloping frontiers that result when you distribute the future rapidly. Here we are, a short time after this novel innovation arises, and we’ve all got superb information and access to cheap tools that, in turn, encourage the growth of communities, guidelines, and norms. The weather balloon application caught my eye, but you see this pattern again and again.

There never was a better time to be a hobbyist. Indeed, the rise of the hobbyist has become a widely promoted theme. Here’s Chris Anderson talking about why Atoms Are the New Bits. Punchline: making is manufacturing.