Technology is quick on the draw with change

03:41, Sep 05 2012

Clint Eastwood's appearance at the Republican National Convention last week, held ahead of November's United States election, would have been an incredibly weird moment no matter which decade it happened.

During a bizarre and largely incoherent ramble of a speech, the actor and director involved in such iconic films as Dirty Harry, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Million Dollar Baby appeared on stage and held a conversation with an empty chair while pretending it was President Barack Obama.

At one point, Eastwood suggested the Invisible Obama was telling him and Republican candidate Mitt Romney to go and do something anatomically impossible with themselves. It was weird.

In fact it was about the strangest thing I've seen in quite some time, possibly on a level with Charlie Sheen's meltdown last year.

As usual, the internet reacted in seconds, with some genius, surprising no-one and delighting everyone, creating an @InvisibleObama Twitter account featuring such winning posts as, “Vote for Romney, and you'll get @invisibleNASA!”

Others posted pictures of them yelling at empty chairs - “Eastwooding”, as it were.


Obama's campaign team quickly jumped on the phenomenon, posting a pic of the POTUS sitting in his chair in the Oval Office, with the caption, “this seat's taken”.

Such an odd event is a reminder of the fact that, like the Olympics last month, discussion about this year's US election will take place on technologies that were barely in their infancy last time around.

This time four years ago there were 3.5 million Twitter users total. Obama currently has more than 19 million Twitter followers, and Romney has 1 million himself.

The online world has changed a lot in such a small time, but it does seem like we're quick to accept new developments as normal and natural and quickly forget the way things were.

You've all experienced the feeling of confusion whenever Facebook makes a change to the layout of your homescreen, along with the familiar fury as your Facebook friends complain about the changes.

But within a couple of visits to the page, the old layout is forgotten, and it's as if we have always had the new version.

The same is true with the physical technology itself, after using an iPad or a smartphone for a couple of weeks, the experience quickly goes from feeling magical to mundane.

Hell, I didn't even have wi-fi at my house five years ago, but now I treat it as a natural aspect of life.

Thinking about this rapid-fire change got me wondering what we would be using at the next Olympics, or US election.

If the last four years is any guide, by then you'll probably be using the internet in completely different ways than you are today.

But the seeds of those new sites and services are probably already here, used by a small group of early adopters, like Twitter and Facebook were before they hit the mainstream.

There are already a few candidates, most built around the idea of a more closed network and an alternative to the increasingly ad-heavy experiences of Facebook and Twitter.

Branch is one such idea, a way of expanding Twitter conversations into more detailed dialogues. Conversations can start on the site or come from Twitter, and although you can subscribe to any conversation and watch it take place, you have to ask if you want to post yourself. At the moment the service is semi-closed, but you can request an invite to join properly, mine took about a week to come through.

Medium is another service aimed to improve an existing web product, in this case web publishing.

Rather than blogs, which are spread across the internet and add content in chronological order, Medium is a centralised site for new content, which is arranged by topic rather than chronology, rather like popular social network come shopping aid Pinterest.

Although I've barely had a look at the service so far, the few public examples given by the team - one with “crazy real-life stories” and one with “nostalgic pictures - look quite promising, with a gorgeous layout and presentation.

I could see myself enjoying this, once I can access it properly.

Finally, is another service we could be into, although there is a rather large road-block.

Currently it resembles Twitter, with people posting content in streams that are able to be subscribed to. You can follow people, post links, and have conversations.

But its founders want to think of it more like infrastructure than a single service, meaning could power a variety of applications in addition to the current incarnation. The catch? costs $50 a year to join. At some point we may be prepared to pay that much for a service that might be better than something we now have for free, but not yet.

Perhaps we'll use one or more of these services, perhaps something else that hasn't been invented yet.

But the one thing you can be sure of: the next time an ageing filmstar appears in front of the world to do something bizarre, the internet, using whichever network is popular at the time, will know what to do.