When I went to ad-school I felt that the school was in many respects molding people into replicas of what ad-people were supposed to be. Now I feel that this is perhaps about to change. The other day I got interview questions from Hyper Island regarding digital trends, and today I got another question from Berghs School of Communication regarding “what the world will look like in 25 years“. And despite the fact that a question like that is hopeless in terms of giving the correct answer, I can try to provide some humble thoughts on the subject.
First, the world will be what we make it. That may sound like an empty phrase, but it’s really quite the opposite. It is a way of living, of working, of acting, and of thinking. If you live by this belief, make decisions and take action, this will not be an empty phrase, but the best estimate of the future that we can produce.
But aside from this answer, I will try to give you an answer to your question that is a little more pragmatic. Looking at what communications will look like in 25 years we can try on two scenarios.
In scenario 1 we make the internet asymmetrical. We let legislation rule what can and cannot be sent across the internet. Material which is not permitted (like “pirated” information for example) will move underground and will be sent using stealth technology. Much of the information flow of the internet will be encrypted jibberish, undecipherable for any sense-making technology wanting to make use of it and invisible to human senses that could otherwise have been used for collaborative sense-making and coordinated collective intelligence.
The goals of those wanting to control certain information based on their nostalgia of the times when they had a lucrative monopoly on distribution will not be reached because of ever improving speed and convenience of stealth technology. Instead, the huge resources that will be put into creating these technologies (love of music for instance is a powerful incentive) will be of great benefit to those who have truly evil intentions but smaller resources, notably terrorists and criminals. Since the only way of stopping “piracy” will be to do so at the infrastructure level (service providers can be real and effective gatekeepers!) this is where we’ll eventually end up, banning encrypted traffic altogether. And presto! The internet as we know it is destroyed.
Also in this asymmetrical scenario, we will start charging for the use of bandwidth. Me, being a strong believer in free markets and competition, opposing this kind of asymmetrical access to the internet based on resources may sound incongruent, but it really isn’t. Much in the same way roads and equality to the law are the basis for efficient competition (imagine the transaction costs of paying different prices for different levels of use of different roads), I think that access to the internet should be considered public infrastructure that will benefit competition, production, innovation, and market efficiency. But in the asymmetrical scenario, this will not be true anymore, and instead old business models and old distribution monopolies can be recreated by content companies using their funds to squat certain infrastructure lines and only provide access to their content through these. This may perhaps sound fair, but what will happen is that the abundance paradigm of the internet, the free flow of information, the “to each according to his ability” (the reverse of the famously Marxist slogan), and the rise of man through collective intelligence will stop.
I’m an optimist. I don’t think that this will happen.
In scenario 2 we retain the symmetry of the internet. We treat it like infrastructure in place to make markets and information flow efficient. Like a great system of streets and water pipes. In this scenario innovation will flourish because we can all do what we have always done, build on each other’s innovations, but we can do it with unprecedented efficiency. We can try and fail at a very low cost, we can learn from the mistakes of others, which boosts human efficiency enormously. This increase in efficiency, just like earlier technology leaps such as industrial farming, will create vast amounts of cognitive surplus that we can use for further innovation and production. Note that even resources that seem to be wasted on chatting with friends and Twittering create value in the form of information coordination and add to the collective intelligence. We can learn how people talk, we can cluster information, we can find new synergies and draw new conclusions.
Gossip will become hugely more efficient in this transparent world of efficient communication. This will lead to vengeance and gratitude being distributed with much more precision in answer to bad or good behavior and will make us all behave better and cheat less.
Digitally replicable products will not be products, they will be marketing for products where there is still tension between supply and demand. Musicians will try to get their music redistributed as quickly and widely as possible in order to fill venues and cut deals with brands, authors will do the same with their audiobooks to get speaking opportunities and sell hardcovers, filmmakers will use their films as vehicles for brand building and profit off of their brand, while also providing vehicles for other brands. Ludicrous legislation regarding this will be laughed at in 25 years. So will the crude methods of product placement of our age. The cinema experience cannot be pirated and we will see huge product development in terms of widening this experience. Their temporary monopoly on the film itself has made them lazy in this respect.
There will not be a difference between our digital identity and our physical one. All interaction with us will be permission based, and we will grant permission to those that we like and receive value from. Interuption marketing will be long since dead. The notion of publicly reachable phone numbers and email adresses will be laughed at as cute relics of the past. Our identity will be our identity and we will call people, not numbers, by whatever means is most efficient at the time, voice, video, text, images. By default our precense in the digital and analogue world will be publicly available. The benefits of this will outweigh the drawbacks. At times we will switch this off, just like we close the door when we want to sleep.
The semantic web will be obvious, and we’ll look back at how the internet was and smile at how we had so many copies of everything and how inefficient everything was. Of course each object will only be available in one absolute, so that any update will only have to be done once. Of course each of these will contain data representations fit for each semantic understanding of that particular data. We will be able to search, deploy scripts to ask questions and make calculations, and switch between real time representations and the historic dimension. This will all be very intuitive.
Since you are asking me to describe what the world will look like in 25 years, it is a bit ambitious to think that one blog post will answer it all, but these are some ideas of how things will be. If that’s what we decide to make them into. Because still, I think that my first answer is the best one – the world will be what we make it.