Diversity in Consumption, Black and White Thinking, and Life in 2020

I recently responded to a friend’s weblog post, Ric Ferraro, when I read through his article about a day in his life in 2020.  I thought I’d use this article to give my perspective on how some technologies and behaviors may look by then, as well as some ramblings on a few related topics.

An important point I want to raise at the start is diversity in consumption, most new technologies never completely replace old consumption models, they may replace the technology used around a particular form of consumption, but the consumption model remains; as a society we change our habits very slowly. Take watching movies as an example, in 2010 I can go to the cinema, buy a DVD or bluray to watch at home (VHS is dead), or avoid leaving home and download the movie to watch via Verizon, Amazon on Demand, Sony Store, Netflix to my TV or PC and I guess in time my mobile.

There is also a current plague of ‘black and white’ thinking on the internet.  I guess related to the phenomenon referred to in Nicholas Carr’s new book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.  Examples of ‘black and white’ thinking include such statements as “iPad changes everything,” or the “future is 3D.”  Do a search and you will see people trying to be credible and saying such weak-thinking statements.  The future is more subtle, its about shades of gray, and in the future there will be a few more shades of gray.  The key is understanding which shades grow in frequency, which do not, and which diminish.  Lacking such hype may not ‘attract’ as much interest in the attention economy, but for the people that take note – they’re likely to have a better chance of making money and protecting their future.

I thought long and hard about whether the laptop would disappear into the cloud in 2020 and we’d just use whatever screen was at hand or a dumb terminal.  But the mobile network capacity to support most laptops / tablets / computing devices in that mode is simply not there, plus international roaming will likely remain an issue (granted more of a niche issue).  And storage is just so damned cheap having it at your finger tips no matter where you are (e.g. on a plane, or anywhere coverage is not great) makes me think the cloud will not replace the laptop in the next 10 years.  Rather the cloud will complement as it does today for an early adopter group just more people will be in that group, my contention is most of us will be in that group.  And let’s face it, even Larry Ellison has stopped ranting about cloud computing and come to terms with his private cloud that Oracle can manage on behalf of its customers – so its here to stay.

I think a significant leap will happen in battery technology over the next 10 years, combined with solid state memory in mobile computers making them an always on personal area hub.  A headset with UWB (Ultra-Wide Band) or bluetooth is the phone and MP3 player, the ‘phone’ just becomes a service of my PAN.  Of course the personal area hub can be phone sized, or laptop sized; its just personal preference based on your workstyle.  For me it will be laptop sized so I can work wherever I am in the world.  Flexible screens and reliable voice control will be viable by 2020, so in your pocket could be a screen wrapped up in something the size of a pen or just a simple lightweight dumb terminal that uses UWB back to the personal area hub, the screen would be your equivalent of a smartphone / PDA, and if the headset battery runs out also your phone.  I doubt HUD (Heads Up Displays) will be pervasive for the risk of Yuppies walking into old ladies; just like the Segway remains niche with 5k annual sales per year and no sign of profitability.  Yuppies (an ’80s term) today are those people that blather loudly on Twitter (just like Yuppies did on their mobile phones in the ’80s), and the same insult still applies to them, they’re tw*ts.

We will still use voice in preference to video communications in 2020, as people do not need nor want to see the person they’re talking to in most business situations.  Video will be used more for personal communications.  Also the technology will in general not be 3D or holograms, just simply a better quality picture than today, ultra high definition will start to enter the market and the cameras will be intelligent to cope with the poor lighting in most real-world situations, unlike webcams today.  And for watching TV, ultra HDTV will be the focus, not 3D as the glasses are a pain.  3D will be there as an option, mainly used for kiddies movies, but what will have most impact is making the movie look real, HDTV is only a first step in that direction.

People will still read books in 2020 as they’re so convenient – you can share.  Reading books on a dedicated reader or tablet, laptop or desktop will increase, but not replace book consumption.

Augmented reality will go the same way of virtual reality did in the ’90s – niche.  Remember when the video game Doom allowed you to customize to real world locations and make the baddies pictures of your friends – it was fun but user experience is key.  Clicking on an app/bookmark (they’re the same thing) is just so easy; rather than using the camera to take a picture, getting the AR app to recognize what you actually want as there’s a lots of extraneous information in the real world that we humans so effectively ignore.  It will just make it easier to select what you want than do anything more fancy.  Keeping it simple is critical to success as Apple continues to demonstrate, e.g. they’ve made bookmarks look like apps through a simple presentation.

WiFi/UWB will start to finally get into the high end appliances, WiFi’s already there in HDTVs.  Next on the list should be fridges, so when the delivery comes with your groceries, they can pack it and upload its contents.  Finally we’ll know what’s in the freezer – down to the shelf and if its front/back.  Though I think this is more a personal wish than a practical reality.

I’m also hoping Google’s strangle hold over search will diminish over the coming decade, lists are so primeval.  Remember those mind-maps of the 1990s, in 2020 they’re back but 3D (mapping – no need to glasses unless that’s your preference) and color; make finding stuff so easy, just follow chains of thought.  WolframAlpha, though limited, makes accessing numerical based info just so damned easy.  Type in your first name and it shows the stats on how many people are alive (in the US) with your first name, the age distribution and lots of other cools stuff.  We need more innovation like this, so use WolframAlpha to encourage search innovation.

What always surprises me in looking back on shows from just 10/15 years ago is seeing fashions, language and idioms that dates the show.  So its not just technology but our perceptions across social norms, use of language, and fashion that keeps changing.  Though I’d argue technology has a trajectory, the others are more random.  For example, the current WMD (weapon of mass distraction) Twitter is a fashion that preys on people’s need to be seen to ‘know’ about something as soon as possible.  I remember when I worked in large organizations there was always a contingent of corporate politicians who made it there business to know about the latest announcements and let everyone know, and would have no filter on whether the announcement was relevant or just marketing BS, essentially they created noise for the people who could analyze and then explain to them why its not that important.  Which they would promptly ignore as they got more attention from shouting fire several times a day.  Twitter is just feeding that human need, which like alcohol is OK in moderation, but I think at present people are partaking a little too much of low grade booze.