The National Geographic Society regularly reviews historic sites all over the world, seeking to recognise those that sustain their heritage, history and sheer ethos despite the passage of time and tourists.
When I think of the word “stewardship”, I think of very similar values. The very word summons a sense of not owning something, of being given the responsibility of looking after something on someone else’s behalf. Of being given the responsibility of looking after that something (or someone) for generations to come, making sure that there continues to be something to look after.
Parenting is a classic act of stewardship, one I keep trying to get better at. And, one day, I hope to learn about grandparenting as well.
Much of what we understand about ecology movements is also related to stewardship. Looking after the earth and all around it is an act of stewardship. Making sure that we do things that are sustainable is an act of stewardship.
Even building software can be an act of stewardship. Recently a colleague of mine tweeted that he was maintaining code written before he was born, code that was performing valuable service today. When I think about the role of software in stewardship, I start thinking about landlords and lessees.
Why? I’ve rented property for many years, I haven’t always been able to afford to buy. Whenever you rent a place, there’s usually a clause that says something like “you should leave this place just as you found it. All expenses to do with restoring the place to what it was like before you got here are payable by you”…. or words to that effect.
I think that principle is at the heart of stewardship. Which is what I was thinking of when I viewed some links tweeted to me by a colleague, Brendan Lee (thank you Brendan! ).
The links were about graffiti, and are well worth reading and watching. They were about Evan Roth and the Graffiti Research Lab. Go take a look, you won’t regret it. There’s a link to a related post here, about turning graffiti into code.
Turning graffiti into code. Now that starting sending me on all kinds of enjoyable wild-goose chases.
What if we could make graffiti non-invasive, no longer persistent while still “permanent”? What if we could could switch graffiti on and off at the touch of a button? Some of the things that Evan Roth demonstrates and talks about suggest this is already happening.
It’s no suggestion, it’s happening now. Augmented reality layers as put forward, for example, by Layar, one of my favourite companies, are classic examples of noninvasive overlays. Now, suddenly, I can see the possibility of walking around historical sites untainted, uncorrupted by modern signage and explanation. The descriptive information is retrieved by smartphone or tablet connected wirelessly to the cloud, and can be designed to enfranchise everyone, without any reliance on sight or hearing or reading ability or even economic power.
It’s happening in many ways now. The ability to become a Retronaut is also designed on this noninvasive basis. Chris Wild’s brilliant invention, the Retroscope, allows us to revel in our nostalgia, steep ourselves in our history, wallow in our culture and geography, all without the need for any “street furniture”.
There is a lot we can learn from Evan, from the people at Graffiti Research; there is a lot we can learn from Maarten and Claire, from the people at Layar; there is a lot we can learn from Chris and from Retroscope. Designing software so that it is neither intrusive nor invasive. No “client installs”. Nothing that ties what you do to a specific device or location or capacity or spend minimum. Software that leaves the environment around you untouched, software that can be undone at the touch of a button, software that lets you behave like a steward in the environment.
Software “estates” today exist in a heterogeneous world, built up over generations; every company has an environment that has evolved like Topsy growing up in the Galapagos. Many of these estates are no longer sustainable or even maintainable, and they will collapse over time. Which is why moving to the cloud is not a nice-to-have option but an imperative.
Noninvasive computing is here to stay. Even in the enterprise. Especially in the enterprise. Because tomorrow’s CEOs will demand it. Which is why I’m here to learn from graffiti and augmented reality and the Retroscope. They show me why the cloud matters.