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Week of 6.2.06

2016: A Peek at Our Internet Future
by Michael Pinto

Michael Pinto is the founder and CEO of Very Memorable Design, and the publisher of Anime.com. He sits on the board of directors of the New York Software Industry Association.

psychedelic computer The biggest shift over the next ten years will be one of attitude, as our mindset of "going online" is replaced by one of "being online". This change has already started, as telephones and televisions become more integrated with the Net, and connectivity will grow to include everything from your morning alarm clock to the book you read before falling asleep at night. The "Internet" will no longer be a destination, but the essential glue that holds our world together.

Along with a change of mindset will be a generational shift. By the year 2016, no one under the age of forty will remember a world without personal computers. The average twenty year old will find it hard to imagine a time when there wasn't any email to check or Web sites to visit. When we reach this point, even the novelty of the term "Internet" will have long since faded to join such golden buzz-words of yesteryear as "space age" and "atomic".

In addition to constant Net connectivity, computing power itself will grow by leaps and bounds -- and this technology will also find its way into everyday objects. Your mobile telephone will be able to record broadcast-quality video, and a cheap child's doll will have the full interactivity of a video game.

As the bulky footprint of personal computers becomes smaller, the desktop computer as we know it will disappear. Thanks to decreased computing costs, the average American home will become littered with computers -- like the television sets of today, you'll find them in cars, kitchens and even bathrooms.

Death of the DVD

Current packaged media formats like CDs and DVDs will also vanish, giving way to downloaded media, while improved monitor resolution will allow you to read a novel on a portable screen without ruining your eyesight.

But this improved technology won't be the true revolution; the real change will occur in our culture, and how we communicate with each other on a global scale. You can start to get a sense of this today if you visit the popular video Web site YouTube.com. The first thing you'll notice is that many of the most popular videos are from all over the planet. Within the top fifty videos you'll discover homemade music videos from China, sports clips from Eastern Europe, and even cute pet tricks from South America.

At first glance these amateur videos seem to be crude in quality, but these memes are in fact the first real taste of the "global village" first envisioned by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960's. It's no small coincidence that the concepts of portable computing (the Dynabook concept as envisioned by Alan Kay) and the first computer animation also date from the 1960's. Those seeds planted years ago will dominate the cultural landscape of 2016, and the garden that grows from them will be an international one.

An Interactive Art Form

Today, interactive media is still the tail of "mainstream media" and not quite yet the big dog. But in the years to come this trend will reverse, as interactive media becomes the dominant form of communication worldwide. You can see hints of this today as video games get larger budgets than some Hollywood films, and as programs like Microsoft Word add features that allow anyone to publish a blog.

As the Internet matures, it will become more of an art form and less about technology. Just as Charlie Chaplin and Sergei Eisenstein helped define the language of cinema in the early 20th century, a new generation growing up on MySpace and Flickr will shape and define this maturing medium. The Internet generation of today will eventually give us the Citizen Kane of the 21st century.

At the same time, the Internet faces many challenges from people who want to control it. Some nations have started to put up firewalls to censor Web sites, and large communication companies are thinking of creating tiered levels of Internet access. But such efforts are doomed to fail in the face of growing awareness of the Internet's vital position in a global economy. The nations that thrive in the 21st century will be those that recognize the necessity of innovation for national growth -- innovation that will only come from citizens who can communicate easily (and inexpensively) with the outside world. A key competitive issue for nation-states will be how well connected they are to the larger global economy and network of ideas.

More Internet Predictions:

National Public Radio: Forecasting the Future of the Internet, May 26, 2006

Pew Internet &: American Life Project: The Future of the Internet, January 2005

Red Herring: The Future of the Internet, April 10, 2006

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