… but sometimes it’s fun to try to predict what’s coming next. Ever since I was a little boy, trying to imagine the future was always fascinating to me. I was obsessed with the attractions at EPCOT growing up (I still am!), and many of my favorite movies involve wild dreams about where we’ll all be far off in the future (Minority Report is one of my favorites).
Looking back, I don’t think many people foresaw the internet becoming the huge society-changing technology that it is today. When looking forward, we tend to imagine these huge departures from how things are now (such as flying cars and talking robots) instead of logical extensions of current technological developments. However, with the vast amounts of information available at our fingertips today, I think I feel comfortable making some good guesses at what the next 10 years will hold for us all.
The Decline of the “Desktop Computer” as We Know It
With the rise of more advanced personal electronics, the desktop computer as we know it will likely become less important as technology moves on. You can already see this happening with devices like the iPhone and the Palm Pre. As size is becoming a non-issue due to shrinking components and less demanding power requirements, people are using their smart phones to accomplish more and more of their computing needs. In fact, it’s really dumb to continue to label these devices as “phones;” what we’re seeing is the handheld computer finally becoming a mainstream product.
Handheld devices are just the beginning of this transition. Having a computer in our living rooms is quickly becoming commonplace. TiVo is a computer running Linux. The Apple TV runs OS X. All of the game consoles are essentially computers with a 10-ft Interface. Heck, even many new TVs these days are beginning to ship with their own form of Widgets built-in.
Perhaps the best example of where things are going (at least in Microsoft’s mind) is the Xbox 360. What began as a project to enter the video game console market back in 2001 has morphed into a huge interactive entertainment initiative. Users don’t use their Xbox just for games any more… They can now video chat, update their facebook status, follow their friends tweets, watch movies on Netflix, listen to internet radio, buy movies/TV shows and much more.
All of this great functionality can now be accomplished without ever turning on a traditional desktop computer; its only going to become more commonplace.
The Ever-Present Internet Connection
The backbone driving the shift to all of this great technology is the increasing omnipresence of a high-speed internet connection. These days, it seems like its hard to go anywhere without seeing signs posted up advertising the availability of “Free Wifi.” Just a few years ago, high speed internet was an uncommon luxury; now it’s the norm.
As the availability of quality internet access continues to increase, so does the distribution of information. For years, a constant stream of information seemed like a pipe dream, with efforts like Microsoft’s SPOT technology trying to fill in some of the gaps. Now that high-speed internet is so common through WiFi and 3G/4G cellular technologies, new internet-enabled devices are popping up almost daily. From children’s toys, to iPods and even your bathroom mirror, your information will be accessible in more places than ever before.
Information as the Gathering Place
As we begin to have such easy access to so much information, the information itself will begin to become the gathering place rather than a specific website or service. For example, let’s look at Facebook.
Just two years ago, the only way to stay in touch with my Facebook friends was by visiting facebook.com in my web browser. These days, I can visit the site, load my Facebook iPhone app, check up on my Xbox 360, interact on Media
BLEEP through Facebook Connect, etc. No matter where I am, I have access to the same information and threads of conversation. The method used to reach the information doesn’t really matter anymore.
For the best example of where I think we’ll be online in a few years, you should really take a minute to check out this demo of Google’s Wave technology. Wave allows a number of users to interact with the same information/conversion from dozens of different avenues, all in real time.
How Can We Prepare Now?
So what’s the best way to prepare for all of these shifts that are just over the horizon? As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, your information is by far your most valuable asset. If you’re not producing your content in a way that’s easily extensible, now is the time to make the change. As more of these great new technologies begin to emerge, you’ll want to make sure that your content is ready to be viewed however your visitors want to consume it.
Remember, the goal of our communication/tech initiatives should be to constantly engage and strengthen our little communities (Tony Morgan recently posted some great thoughts on this). If our content isn’t built around this objective, the future is going to be a challenging place for all of us.