I’ve been re-reading Nicholas Negroponte’s brilliant and extraordinarily prescient 1995 book Being Digital this week, and I just came to the famous section in Chapter 12 about “The Daily Me.” It’s his visionary discussion of a future of personalized filters for all things digital to perfectly tune news and entertainment to your personal preferences. Here’s the key passage (again, remember that he wrote this in 1995, long before most of the digital things we take for granted today existed):
Imagine a future in which your interface agent can read every newswire and newspaper and catch every TV and radio broadcast on the planet, and then construct a personalized summary. This kind of newspaper is printed in an edition of one. [...] Imagine a computer display of news stories with a knob that, like a volume control, allows you to crank personalization up or down. You could have many of these controls, including a slider that moves both literally and politically from left to right to modify stories about public affairs. These cotnrols change your window onto the news, both in terms of size and its editorial tone. In the distant future, interface agents will read, listen to, and look at each story in its entirety. In the near future, the filtering process will happen by using headers, those bits about bits.
Well, that future came about sooner than even Negroponte could have predicted. We all have a “Daily Me” now; it’s called our RSS feed. And there are other components to the “Daily Me,” such as iGoogle and Google Alerts, which provide automated search results served up instantaneously. And there are many other digital tools and services out there today that help us personalize our media experience.
You really gotta hand it to Negroponte for being way ahead of the curve in foreseeing all of this at a time when most of us where still using Trumpet Winsock and 14.4 modems. Hell, Al Gore hadn’t even built the Internet yet!