Monday, July 25, 2005

The Future of The Internet...

My mind's sketches of the sketchy future

The Internet was designed as a communication network capable of withstanding even a nuclear hit. To-date this has not been put to the test, however, today and in the future this is no longer a relevant question. The importance of the Internet has grown to such extent that the USA would use nuclear force to protect the Internet if that what it would take to protect it. The future of the Internet thus is inextricably linked to the future of the civilization. The Internet isn't just a communication network of networks, it is a vital social technology and its future is assured no less than the future of the civilization. The question, however, will the future be bright, gloomy, more of the same we are experiencing now? I disagree with the predictions of the social luminaries of both persuasions - gloominaries and the paradaisaics. In the context of the Internet, I no longer make sharp distinction between the virtual and physical reality, for they both are an intrinsic reality of our physical existence. No doubt the Internet will evolve, however, I submit that it will evolve slowly; at least slower than the social evolution of the future generations.

The Internet has never been a particularly effective medium for connecting people to people. Probably most will disagree with such assessment; however, the reality is that the Internet was only really effective in creating and releasing multiple personalities within individuals; it created actors on the global cyber stage and inordinate number of village fools in the global village. The Internet has been exceedingly effectinve in connecting people to their PCs through which people have assumed various acting roles and used the Internet as an acting stage. Unlike in the physical world where there are few actors and many spectators, on the Internet virtually everybody is an actor. The greatest influence of the Internet on the communities was the release of the actor within. Since this process of release has happened throughout the world there’s no much more the Internet can achieve.

So, the Internet has passed its social impact bang and technological zenith at the threshold of the 21st century. Since then the evolution of the internet has been slowing down and it will reach its evolutionary tipping point by 2008-2010, beyond which the evolution of the Internet will plateau. I do expect some occasional technological spikes, however none of those will have significant social impacts we have been accustomed from the Internet. Sure more people will get connected to the Internet - especially from the developing economies - but the growth itself will not impact on the future evolution of the Internet. To lucubrate about this point I will digress slightly. The first social technology, which, transformed the world was Gutenberg's printing press. Whilst the printing technology and the medium have reached dizzy heights and still rocketing, the quality of the popular content carried by the print medium reached its spire decades ago and since then has been degenerating rapidly. So, despite the incredible advances in print technology the fundamental output remains the same and will remain; there's no more avenue for spectacular advancements in the print medium. The alternative to it was to invent a totally new social technology with a new social medium. Since the 1st Gutenberg Press it took 420 years for such new technology to emerge - the Internet, and 20 years later the social medium -WWW, became wide open and by 2008 any further development of this social medium will be peripheral. Technological advancements will be in the area of miniaturization - not of the actual devices but rather of the electronic components, wide spread of nano-technology and flexible organic electrical composites borrowed from the nature. All these which will enable manufacturers to build cuter gadgets but adding little value to social interfacing between people. The trend will be to continue to emulate the physical world with all of its desirable and undesirable senses. The problem with such approach is that the physical world is not perfect, and people are looking at something which offers alternative to the physical world rather than the emulation of the imperfect physical. The notion that the electronic medium will make the physical better is a false one. It won't. So there is no grand future for the Internet or the WWW. The present will persist into the future just like the printing medium until the arrival of the mass www. Thus the interesting question is not about the internet's future but what will be that new social medium which will rival or even outdo the Internet. Maybe there will be no more spectacular electronic medium we will just incrementally improve on what we have now… unless organic devices connected wireless or teleporting!

In the meantime and for the foreseeable future the current trend of connecting more people to more computers will continue. Technological evolution will be marginal and of little impact. Eventually, as many people will embrace the marginal developments of the Internet as will exit it or dump it because of boredom and loss of interest.

To be continued … orrrr not?