Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Predictions About Our Digital World

Today my friend Todd forwarded me a link to an online Quake emulation which is pretty freakin' awesome. Its massive bandwidth and processor requirements made my measly 750 MegaHerz Macintoy chip creep along, but this emulation is a subtle reminder that the entire world will be going online. If online emulators can be this good, why can't everything go online?

When I was visiting the States in the late 80s, I remember asking my father—whose early childhood had been defined by a house without electricity—what he thought the future of newspaper publishing would look like given the latest proliferation of computers. The internet had yet to take hold of the world, so there was no way he could even fathom the new world that would explode just 10 years after that. Nevertheless, his vision was prophetic: "Newspapers will be sent to us at home through our telephones or fax machines, or some other such device, and we'll print them up at home to read." With the exception of the printing part, that is exactly how most of us receive the news today. Yikes.

About six years after that, I was chatting with a colleague about the future of cell phones. At the time, we were paying bills on a minute by minute rate. If you were on the phone for 10 seconds, you got billed for a whole minute. His prediction: "One day, we'll be buying chunks of time at a flat rate." Preposterous, I thought. Why would companies do something like that? And here we are today with cell phone companies selling 500 minutes/month. Interesting...

About 2 months ago, NPR was interviewing some bloke about the future of the newspaper industry. He was saying that news distribution has been shifting emphasis from paper media to online media, which is true because I myself no longer buy paper newspapers (the Sunday edition of The New York Times notwithstanding), but use RSS feeds with NetNewsWire to get as many as 100+ news stories every morning. And it's all free. So from my desk POV, it's astonishing that paper newspapers haven't closed up shop yet. And most of them will have to close shop as my generation, and all my subsequent generations, grow older. This guy on NPR wisely added that, in order to survive, paper news publishers are going to have to redefine themselves as information providers, instead of newspaper publishers. Good man.

And then last night, following my logorrheic tirade against the French Government's anti-business intrusions, my new friend Richard asked me an excellent question about how music and movies will be distributed in the future. He said he spent more money on music in 2005 through iTunes than on any music at all in 2004 because not only was iTunes offering access to music he'd never heard but music companies had always promoted music he didn't like. Would full digital delivery really happen?

My reply:

Full digital delivery is well on its way, I think. In 20 years, CDs will be coffee coasters for the most part. The democratization of music and motion picture distribution will soon devastate the music labels and film distributors until they revamp, restructure, and redefine themselves. I doubt they'll go under completely (TV did not kill radio, after all)—there will always be someone who excels at promoting music and movies and most artists would rather not be bothered with all that nonsense. The wave of the future could be a distribution company focusing on promoting artists who live all over the world, rather than promoting only artists who have moved to a major urban hub like L.A. and New York.

You don't have be Stephen Hawking to see the world is changing colors when it comes to distributing content online. The future in online. Everything will be online.

Ok. How will this look?

My Predictions For The Future:

  • All software applications will be online. Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Quake, Quicken... everything.

  • We will pay a bulk rate to use software applications online. We'll also pay to add individual modules to our online software as needed: $1/month to use a spreadsheet formula or 5¢ for every instance of boldface. (The Three Musketeers was originally published in newspaper serials and Dumas was paid per line, not per word; this had the unintended consequence of Dumas writing brief dialogue, which gave birth to a new method of literature. And so our own communication habits will also be changed depending on the price paid, or not paid, for our communications.)

  • Local hard drives will eventually be backed up online with high-level encryption.

  • As we use more online applications, and our trust in handing our personal data over to encrypted serversg grows, we will use online servers as our primary storage... and our local hard drives will become our backup storage. If you don't believe anyone would trust their private data with on a remote source, just look how much personal information people post about themselves on Myspace. And how many people give their credit cards numbers to complete strangers to buy things online.

  • We will buy rights to music once and it will follow us forever so we can play it in whatever medium we choose, though this will obviously be streamed over the internet, because the internet will be everywhere. For online media, this will be good news: we will always have the best quality version available—no more broken CDs or DVDs will have to be re-purchased. For online media, this will also be bad news: future generations might not be able to experience our constantly upgraded media (stone tablets last thousands of years while videotape doesn't last more than 30 years).

These are but a few of my predictions. I have many more, but I must get back to writing. On my local hard drive. With my local-running version of Word. Wow, it just hit me that I've composed this entire post, and saved it, on my browser. Huh.

Do any of you have predictions on the shape of our world to come? Holla!


xPatricklee said...

I predict that access to information technology will be so massive that the cell phone could very be the next notebook computer utilizing online storage and the like. Things will become faster, people will become less patient, and the world will be faced with a true net format.

Miles Maker said...