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September 30, 2008

Internet - the next 10 years

As part of their 10 year celebrations Google have a series of posts looking at how the Internet might change over the next 10 years.  The series includes posts by Vint Cerf, Chad Hurley and others.  From washing machines to world health, boiled frogs to the ubiquity of video, mobile technology, the democratization of data, cloud computing and social networks, there's a lot of breadth here.

Me?  I struggle to predict the next 10 days, so I'm happy to read about how others see the longer term.  One thing is clear... we'll collectively fit significantly more technological change into the next 10 years than we did into the last.  On that basis, I suspect that all of this is very much finger in the air type stuff anyway.

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Bearing in mind the predicted rises in sea levels, the increasing disappearance of the Amazon rainforst, Greenland and Antarctica melting away, the (overdue) flu pandemic that will take out 1 in 4 Twitterers (is that good or bad?), and various other scenarios which could quickly bring on a Malthusian catastrophe, we'll probably be quite grateful to be still online in 2018.

In an evening of mid-life crisis (I turned 40 a few days ago) it was interesting to compare 1998 and 2008. In many ways things are just the same. Sceptics continue to bore us with negative substance-free speeches about emerging technologies. Internet speeds, and access, are unequal across the population. No-one is sure which of the current crop of Internet service is viable in the long term i.e. this time next year. IT events and workshops still stick to the same format. And people prefer to travel to exotic locations for conferences rather than video conference (wonder why)?

But in others its different. You can pick up a high powered laptop for under 300 quid now. And roam while being on the net. Forums and Usenet still attract the hardcore and the obsessive, but the masses stick up stuff on Wiki, YouTube and Flickr. Banking, shopping, flights, utilities and much more can be done online - and, increasingly, online is essential for e.g. filing your tax return.

One (safe) prediction. We're not far from the point, certainly in Western Europe, where everyone falls into one of just two categories: Online, and Don't want to be online. That latter category will slowly shrink as demographics change and as it become necessary to be online to do more work-related things. But there'll always be a rump of people who, through choice (and there are many different reasons), "can't surf, won't surf".

Which is a bit of a problem for inclusive, IT-centric education.

Douglas Adams pointed out why it is such a bad idea to listen to predictions made by the computer industry "There are two things in particular that it failed to foresee: one was the coming of the Internet which, in an astoningly short time, has become what the internet is all about; the other is the fact that the century would end."

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