Words by Boyd Farrow / Photography by Julian Anderson
“There isn’t a single ironic bone in my body,” he shrugs. “My inspiration was actually a 1976 book called Radical Technology by Godfrey Boyle and Peter Harper, and particularly the illustrations by the anarchist Clifford Harper, which was a hippie fantasy about how ordinary people could use the technology of their day to take control of their lives, turning a housing estate into a farm or whatever. I got to thinking that we can’t do anything like that today. You can’t repurpose the iPhone into something else with just a little grit or go off-grid in a windmill. Today technology is far more insidious and it got me thinking about networks and algorithms running in the background of our lives, constantly altering our decision-making.”
Although Greenfield’s book examines several Big Ideas shaping our future, such as the effect of virtual currency on the corporate world, or the impact of 3D printing on manufacturing, it is networked digital information – and the rise of Big Data – that concerns him the most. “That is not just an object,” he says, nodding at the smartphone I am using to record our conversation. “Behind its interface is a framework and infrastructure that is giving away all sorts of information to all sorts of organisations.” He shuffles to stand up and for a split second I think he is going to submerge my phone in his pint. Happily, he’s just getting a dish of hummus from the bar.