This Week in the Future: Humans 1, Technology 0 (Or: Watching the Boston Red Sox in Palm Springs)

Dustin Pedroia

This week finds me in Chicago visiting my family. Go Bears! I’m not a huge Bears fan, but I’m from the West Coast, where football is a religion like it is in other places in America. Plus, when in Rome…

I’ve roped my family into helping with the column this week. My family is more suited for this type of work than you might think. I often joke that I was raised to be a futurist. My dad, Dave, was a radar-tracking technician for the FAA. My mom, Jane, was an IT specialist for a local college and the government. Dad taught me how to read electrical schematics before the age of ten and mom raised me to speak computer.

If you want to see cutting edge uses of technology and entrainment, look no further than sports and pornography. These two necessities of our screen-watching lives have a long history of early adoption and monetization of emerging technological advances.

Back when broadcast TV was the new kid on the block, baseball and boxing ruled the airways. In 1939, the first Major League Baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds was broadcast by WNBC-TV from Ebbets Field. It took just eight years for the MLB to broadcast the World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees. The signal was carried between New York and Washington, D.C., and was watched by about three million people. Remember, this was 1947 and most Americans still didn’t have a TV in their living rooms; many had to watch in bars.

From satellite connectivity to connected screens, sports does a good job of “futurecasting” how we might use and interact with new gadgets and technologies. This year, ESPN is filled with commercials of rabid college football fans watching their favorite team wherever they might be, as they “Never Miss a Moment of the Action!” Visit most major sports arenas and your 4G connectivity is probably the best you’ll find in that city. The number of bars you get sitting in the stands of AT&T Park in San Francisco is amazing. (Go Giants!)

I don’t think these facts will come as a surprise to anyone. We’ve come to expect this type of tech adoption from sports. What interests me is the subtle changes in people’s behavior enabled by these advances. Keeping this column in the family, let me tell you about my cousin Laurie.

Laurie and her partner Pat are crazy huge Boston Red Sox fans. They have been fans all their lives, know all the players’ stats and yell at the TV. They talk about the Sox like they’re talking about family, wondering about injuries and how players are doing on a long road trip. It took me a few hours to figure out that Dustin Pedroia, Boston’s second baseman, wasn’t related to me. THAT would have been awesome!

With this much Red Sox mania, it makes perfect sense that these ladies are addicted to MLB.TV. This non-broadcast service allows them to watch any Major League Baseball game anywhere on any device. They can keep up with Pedroia on their Apple TV, laptop and smartphone. Now, for a kid who played the part of the remote control for my dad when he watched baseball games in the 1970s, this really does show we’ve entered the future of sports. If you like sports, you simply get more. More of the games you want, more information about your teams and more all-around access whether you are at home, on the go or in the stadium.

“It means we could move to Palm Springs for the Win-tah,” Cousin Laurie explained to me with a smile. (“Win-tah” is “winter” with a heavy Boston accent.)

“We can keep an eye on our boys and sit in the sun,” Pat added with a freckled Irish face.

This is the sign of a true technological success! When the future arrives, it should feel normal, as though it’s always been there. But it should also make our lives better. In its own way, that’s what MLB.TV (and all the other services like NBA League Pass – Go Blazers!) is doing. The future of technology and sports over the next 5 years or so will be less about the technology and more about the sports. It’s about the people: the people who love watching sports and connecting them to the people who play the games. It’s not about the technology at all. I find that kind of lovely. Sports have always been about people. The act of playing a sport, any sport, is intensely human. We connect to the brilliance of the play but also the stories of the people who are playing.

In the wake of devastating natural disasters and polarizing political elections, sports might not be the most important thing in the world. After all, baseball, basketball and auto racing are all, in the end, just entertainment. But it sure is a lovely diversion to watch amazing feats of human skill and talk smack about rival teams. In the relentless march of technological innovation, humans still win when it comes to the future of sports. It’s about the people and their stories and that’s not going to change. Go Bears!

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DISCLAIMERI am Intel’s futurist. I am currently on sabbatical from Intel.  My thoughts, observations and analyses are mine personally and I am not speaking on behalf of Intel.

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