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November 8, 2013 6:18 pm
I’ve been asked to be a godmother and I’m taking the matter very seriously. I consider the role to be about more than just remembering birthdays and other important rites of passage. There’s a little bit of that, of course. But the next 30 years are likely to be among the most transformative in human history and I want to be there with guidance for my goddaughter as self-driving cars, drone-delivered pizzas, robot servants and brain-embedded Google become the norm.
My first godmotherly duty: to come up with a viable christening gift. We Polish Catholics love trinkets but I have a longstanding distrust of gold, baubles and bling, which I sense could make this endeavour a tricky one. I want something less material but more durable – something that cannot be lost, stolen or forgotten. Having had my own jewellery taken in a burglary last year, I know it’s not the market value of those pieces that really matters but the dedications I never bothered to record. The jewellery serves only as a keeper of the memory. So my idea is, yes, get the jewellery, engrave it with some wise words but I also plan to accompany it with a 3D scan, which can be committed to the digital cloud for all eternity. Surely, it’s the sort of dematerialised gift that the frugal Pope Francis would approve of? My husband (unsurprisingly) is dubious. He says if you want something meaningful, just get some fine Bordeaux. If it’s authenticated and locked away in bonded storage by the time she’s 21 it will turn into a fine nest egg – or, alternatively, make for a fine coming of age party.
Finding a 3D scanning service is proving harder than anticipated. The future may be here but it has not yet been distributed to Geneva, where I live. Also, while there are a number of 3D printing companies scattered across Europe, as yet none has the sort of retail presence that can cater to my customised digital scanning needs. I’m quickly learning that 3D scans are not as fungible as I thought, either. The risk is that I commit something to the dematerialised cloud that no earthbound 3D printer will be able to decipher in 30 years, let alone materialise on demand in fairy godmother-fashion, as intended. All in all, it may be time to reconsider my plan – and I’m leaning towards the purchase of a little chunk of digital heaven outright, most likely in the shape of some Twitter stock. The Pope tweets @Pontifex, no?
. . .
A gallery in Amsterdam is using 3D printers to make near perfect replicas of Van Gogh masterpieces. I seize upon the story because I see it as massively disruptive to the value of the fine collectables market, and another step towards the dematerialised society. Art aficionados don’t agree. They reassure me that you can’t replace originals because of the mystical and ethereal essence that they possess. At most, perfect copies will only raise the value of the paper trail associated with authenticity. I’m no modern-art expert but I’m encouraged in my sceptical view by the renegade artist Banksy, who recently set up a market stall selling originals as if they were copies.
At Frieze art fair in London I find myself discussing the true meaning of a Jeff Koons with a colleague. I can’t help noticing that the number of security guards outnumbers visitors two to one around his patch. I concede that I can see the craftsmanship in the giant plastic kitty on display. But is the astronomical value justified? I’m not sure. Not unless it’s offered up to the public space, where it can stimulate minds time and again.
. . .
I am in New York to participate in a “future of work” inquiry. Fittingly, among the movies I digest on my United flight from Geneva is the The Internship, about a couple of forty-something salesmen who, realising they have no skills for the modern digital workplace, decide to fling themselves headfirst into a Google internship programme.
The future of work event gets me thinking, more than usual, about what we can expect of the world in 30 years. One thing most of us agree upon is that technological disruption is already having a meaningful impact on our modern definition of employment. Whether it’s The Jetsons’ two-hour working week that will soon be upon us, or a divided dystopia made up of a working underclass serving the leisure elite, depends increasingly on the choices we make today. Will my goddaughter even have a career to look forward to, let alone anything remotely resembling a job? A like-minded futurist who has some authority in employment matters convinces me it’s best to be optimistic. As the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted, technology has the potential to free mankind from the drudgery of uncreative work – providing, of course, that society finds a way to ensure that technological power doesn’t end up being overly concentrated in too few hands.
. . .
I’m invited to the Dove Parlour bar in Greenwich Village to meet the crème de la crème of the New York blogging scene. It’s the day before Halloween and, as is usual for New York, most of the clientele is costumed-up way ahead of time. For me, it’s a great opportunity to catch up with those I’ve met before but also to put new faces to those Twitter handles I’ve not yet encountered outside the digital space. I quickly assess the crowd as representing something in the region of 300,000 followers. Not bad for a table’s worth of tweeps.
. . .
I’m back in Geneva, sorting through a batch of wild mushrooms that I handpicked during my routine autumnal foraging excursion – a tradition inherited from my Polish family. Not to compare mushrooms too much with wine, but every year is different and this season has proved a particularly good vintage. My hoard includes five gigantic specimens – an impressive feat so late in the season. Once commoditised by the drying process, I reckon my harvest could fetch as much as SFr100 (£68) on the delicatessen circuit. Not that I’m selling. My wares are for personal risotto consumption only. Besides, there’s no point getting attached to high porcini valuations; autonomous grape-picking vehicles are already disrupting the wine market.
Izabella Kaminska is a reporter for FT Alphaville
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