It’s staggering to reflect on how far ‘the internet’ has come in the 25 years since the world wide web was made public. From the static, early web pages of the world’s biggest brands, to a present day where even small businesses have responsively designed, interactive websites.
It’s a big shift for a relatively ubiquitous technology in much of the world. In the 11 years between 1996 and 2007, internet use in the US went from only a quarter of adults using the web, to only a quarter not using it.
If we look back 25 years, who was predicting in detail the developments we’re seeing today? Even Tim Berners-Lee’s original memo didn’t stretch to virtual reality headsets or envision the likes of Snapchat.
So, how can we feel confident about predictions for 2041? We can’t, but that doesn’t stop it being a fun exercise to make educated guesses. General consensus is that the internet will slot seamlessly into the fabric of daily life – always there, always on – but not something we think about, akin to electricity today.
Pre-internet, I would need to keep a lunch break free this week to nip out to the post office to renew my vehicle excise duty. Four years ago I paid for it online and the tax disc just arrived in the post. Today there isn’t even a tax disc. Instead, the money is taken automatically and the system ‘just knows’ whether my car is taxed or not. That lunch break is my own!
The future internet will be designed to continue stripping away the mundane. It will know enough to let us get on with what we enjoy and take care of the drudgery, whether that’s paying our monthly bills automatically, restocking the fridge with our favourite foods, or booking tickets to our favourite musicians’ gigs. Life’s digital barriers will continue to come crashing down, but with this comes an acceptance that we share data to allow such fluidity.
Already, the younger generations – those who live on the internet – are shocking their peers with the extent of their willingness to be open. As digital natives, they’ve grown up with a full understanding of value exchanges, with data being their primary currency, in all its flavours. This will only increase as the beloved and much-hyped internet of things gains traction. The more data available to solve our problems, the more efficient the solution.
To put it another way, our personal data is enhanced by that of everything we interact with; all talking to each other and creating a unique digital presence that is tied to our identity. If harnessed, there would be no need for logging in. To anything.
The internet knows us. No need for touch ID or retina scanning. This will be cracked sooner rather than later. Doing away with passwords is top of so many lists. Then again, you can’t have passwords if you don’t have user interfaces (UI) and their time is running out.
Cortana, Siri and the rest are a stepping stone to the inevitably interfaceless internet. If we want to select next summer’s beach apartment, how will we do it? We need pictures, right? A virtual reality headset? Ha! Old school!
What if the internet knew you so well that you no longer had to choose your holiday. You just turn up and that family you had such a laugh with two years ago are there as well and it’s just brilliant. AI can make great decisions on our behalf, but only if we cede digital sovereignty to the robots in our pockets.
This is where the next 25 years will be particularly interesting. There may come a point where many decide to take back control. In the future, when driverless cars are the norm, will iconoclasts pay extra to have pedals and a steering wheel, in a special environment away from the public roads?
Will we reach a point where supermarkets become technologically Argos-ed, with the aisles only accessible to a fleet of drones taking orders from our fridges? That battle, between freedom and utility, will likely define this century.
Beyond that, the free time this always-on internet can yield will likely lead to even more creative, technological ideas coming to fruition. How can we possibly predict where that will lead us? Better just asking Siri…
Chris Constantine is head of UX at Syzygy