Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Internet in 10 Years

When people ask each other what the internet is going to look like in 10 years you actually get pretty same-y sorts of answers. It's all immersive virtual reality environments that heavily resemble 1980s Cyberpunk. Certainly with the recent popularity of MMORPGs like WoW this isn't an unreasonable prediction to make, but I think it's missing the point entirely.

I think it helps if you look at the question, "Where will the internet be in five years" or even "Where will it be in two years". It also helps to ask "How far has the internet come in the past five years/two years?" These questions are much, much easier to answer, and from those answers we can draw conclusions about the far flung future of the internet and how we use it.

Five years ago it was 2003. In 2003 I had not yet started blogging and social media hadn't become the curiosity it now definitely is. I wasn't exactly on the cutting edge in 2003 - the internet was primarily a research tool and that's all. It wasn't reactive. I couldn't talk back. I mean, I'm a bit biased, but I think it's true. Back in 2003 we were never threatened with failure if we cited Wikipedia in an essay - I'm not even sure if I knew it existed!

Today the internet is an interactive experience. Commenting on other people's work has become an expected feature, as has easy distribution methods like embedding. It has also become freer - Creative Commons licenses and open source software have become common. Also it has become much more mobile. Currently in developing countries the primary mode of access to the internet is the mobile phone. It's getting that way in the West as well - internet enabled phones are gradually getting cheaper.

If these trends continue we can expect the internet to be incorporated into our daily lives. Seeing as we'll always have access via our mobiles, short-form communication tools like Twitter will become more important that long-form modes like Blogger because people will be checking and updating more often.

People always talk about the internet-enabled fridge, but I'm not sure I believe them. Instead I think our TVs and sound systems will morph into home media centres where you can access online video as well as digital television (assuming they ever make the switch).

Finally, the net will be faster - so the files we send will get bigger. High quality video anyone?

I look forward to the day I could be writing this entry from the bus on my phone. Because, you know, none of us will have cars in five years time. Who will be able to afford petrol?

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