The Future—More than Media
FUTURE STUDIES. Internet is really not only about media. Internet is changing society in many different areas as well, and many of these are just as important as media: healthcare, education, and traffic safety, to name a few. Indeed, our entire society is changing. It’s also possible that entirely new technological achievements will alter our existence. Maybe it will be the small-scale biotechnology that’s going to turn our world upside down. Or new medications that lead to a longer life.
It’s quite peculiar: when we endeavor to see into the future, we always turn backward to see what has already changed and we believe it will be similar in the future: more of that which has already happened.
Christian Science Monitor, Disruptive Civil Technologies, National Intelligence Council, Internet of Things, IoT, machine to machine, M2M, RAND Corporation, ubiquitous, u-IT, Markus Gossas, Torbjörn Lundqvist
For those of us working within the media sector, it’s easy to believe that we are in the epicenter of the technological revolution. There’s nowhere that the impact of Internet technology has been more evident than in the operation of media companies.
A newspaper is no longer a newspaper but a newspaper and a website—and in a number of cases in the USA, only a website. Found among the Internet newspapers is the classic American quality newspaper the Christian Science Monitor, now printed only once weekly but otherwise published on the Internet. It’s a daily newspaper on the web but a printed weekly magazine.
The media revolution becomes even more apparent when one realizes that one no longer needs a radio or television device to listen to radio or view television. It can be done just as well with a computer or cell phone.
The question is will there be special radio and television devices at all in ten or fifteen years? The question can even be posed, will the future include radio and television broadcasts in general, of the type that have existed for almost 100 years—scheduled programs in standardized format?
However, looking at the larger future studies that have been completed during recent years, it’s not the renovation of the media society or even IT-development itself that are in focus. In a large study, Disruptive Civil Technologies, published a few years ago, American researchers described technological break throughs that could have decisive effects on society between now and 2025. ICT 2020: Research for Innovations (2007)(PDF)
Media in general didn’t even warrant a mention on the technological development map of this study. Only one of the development perspectives was about IT. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research report, National Intelligence Council (NIC), describes an impersonal IT communication that is on its way toward development. Machines will communicate with other machines, something called the Internet of Things (IoT) or Machine to machine (M2M).
The other five development perspectives are
- Biogeron technology—possibilities for influencing aging with the help of biomedicine
- Energy Storage Materials—entirely new energy storage technologies (think of electric cars, for example)
- Biofuels and Bio-based Chemicals—created from renewable raw materials
- Clean Coal Technologies—clean coal-burning technologies
- Service Robotics—robots that can perform qualified services
RAND Corporation (PDF) published a comprehensive study in 2006 listing 56 important technological applications of new knowledge with the time perspective of 2020. RAND then specified 16 of these technological applications that may have particularly powerful impacts. Of these, a mere four were directly connected with IT. None of them are directly about media but rather indirectly:
- Wireless communication in the countryside, access to telephone and Internet over large areas
- Technology for ubiquitous access to information wherever and whenever
- Ubiquitous RFID14 marking of commercial products and individuals
- Sensors for monitoring/surveillance in real time
The NIC report further describes a future where media and traditional IT are no longer the driving forces behind development. Instead, continued development is driven by the use of IT by companies and the use of IT that is built into everyday applications.
The German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media (BITKOM), in their study Zukunft der digitalen Wirtschaft (The Future of the Digital Economy), list four megatrends within IT development: market convergence, increasingly more flexible organizations, ubiquitous IT, and the entirely limitless use of digital information.
A picture of the future of technology development is sketched by the authors Markus Gossas and Torbjörn Lundqvist in a study Ubikvitär framtid? It-perspective på stat och samhälle (pdf) [Ubiquitous Future? Information Technology in Future Sweden] newly published by the Swedish Institute for Futures Studies. Ubiquitous is one of the “new” new technology’s buzzwords. It’s just as well you learn it. It means omnipresent, or being everywhere. And that is what Internet is thought to become somewhere between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0—somewhere around Web 2.5.
The report is about IT development but its conclusions open up a significantly broader perspective.
It’s about interdisciplinary understanding of culture and the relationship between people and nature:
“The technological paradigm that is expected to take shape will, if expectations are realized, integrate nano-, bio-, information- and cognitive science (NBIC) in a new form. The potential for biological and cognitive control will increase, with social and political uncertainty as a probable consequence. NBIC can provide new possibilities for human control over nature with consequent welfare, but even control over individuals, in other words, new technology for the exercise of power. While the information society has matured through the application of u-IT and while we begin to sense the start of the NBIC-paradigm, the public sector lags behind.”
It’s also about the media society:
“The ubiquitous information technology also means tremendous opportunities for the entertainment industry. While television and computer games developed in the 1970s and the following decades were activities for one or two users and a computer, today’s games involve millions of users and are based on mass communication and interaction. Gaming worlds today tends to adopt the characteristics of alternative places and communities transcending what is traditionally called a ‘game’. Rather they are collective fantasies with open narratives. Through the application of u-IT the simulated realities or synthetic worlds can be interconnected and blended with the physical world, and with social media and communications. They become less like separate locations and more like omnipresent dimensions with their own events.”
With good reason, the question could be asked if the obviously technological advance is also a cultural and societal advance:
“A transition from cables and personal computers to intelligent environments and Internet everywhere can be understood as a modernization, a step forward technologically and socially (and perhaps even culturally). The question is if this is obvious. Technological revolutions such as book printing and television have meant, or at least been associated with modernization, even socially, e.g. in the form of public education and access to information. However, innovations in information technology also have less rational sides. For example, television images spread across the world and provide information on global events, but TV also serves as a propaganda tool.
Internet frees information and provides increased opportunities to seek and spread information, which can be interpreted as socially progressive or as a means of propagating democracy. But Internet and social media also unlock doors to worlds of fantasy and escapism, which can take on irrational and antidemocratic streaks. New communities and identities are formed on the Web, some around alternative world-views and constructed realities like conspiracism, political paranoia and occultism.
The public sector is shattering and, in time, perhaps even our commonly shared frames of reference, a development toward a ‘postmodern’ society in the strictest sense, facilitated by Internet. With increasing parts of social life taking place ‘online’, we can expect a shift of power over the formation of public opinion, a challenge to traditional institutions such as media, businesses and governments.”
The report from the Swedish Institute for Futures Studies also sketches an interesting as well as significant economic-historical perspective (see discussion on Erik Dahmén):
“Another scenario, at least methodological, is to proceed from research on long waves in economy. Christopher Freeman and Carlota Perez are leading names within this Neo-Schumpeterian area. For this reason, one has referred to a ‘Schumpeter-Freeman-Perez paradigm’….What would the sketch of a scenario by Perez look like? (Perez 2006). According to this approach, technological revolutions have occurred every 40-60 years since 1771. The fifth technological revolution, called by Perez the ‘Age of Information and Telecommunications’ began at the start of the 1970s in the USA and then spread to Europe and Asia. …
A fundamental characteristic for the IT-paradigm is the trend toward globalization, which is actually a consequence of IT. The future of IT is entwined with the future of the global economy that, in turn, affects national and regional economies. The quest toward reaching a gigantic global market is a direct consequence of the possibilities afforded by IT. Technology allows for coordination far beyond that which was offered by the old business pyramids. Several of the most important factors for the current globalization are derived from innovations or changes in business behavior based on IT. Innovations within IT form the basis for development within most branches and sectors, not the least within technologies such as bio and nano. An historic parallel is the significance of oil during the 1990s. For more than half a century, oil-based mass production guided the direction of innovations focused on energy- and material-intensive production patterns and ways of life.
Many surprising steps forward will presumably be taken on the interdisciplinary front: bio-nano, bio-info, bio-info-nano. An NBIC-convergence that will fundamentally alter man and society has been discussed (Fontela 2006). When it comes to demand-driven innovations, it’s about new applications within areas of familiar technology, not least within IT and bio. Areas considered interesting regarding new innovations within the prevailing technology paradigm are manufacturing, foods, services, environment, communication, transportation, energy, health and safety. Examples are biotechnology’s significance for pharmaceuticals and foods, IT within environment, safety, health, education and communication.”
Internationally, there are countless future studies. The problem with almost every future description is that the big question isn’t what is going to happen but when it will happen.
In five years, the media structure of today will essentially remain. But within this structure, major changes will have occurred. It isn’t unimportant if the big newspapers, under the same names as today and by and large staffed with the same journalists, have gone from distinctly news reporting to a sort of daily feature magazine.
During the coming five years, we’ll understand just as poorly the importance of shifts in the media structure as we today understand the changes that have already occurred for daily newspapers and the big television channels.
On the surface, it will still appear as if nothing has happened. The structures will probably hold through another tremor or two. But sooner or later we’ll realize that the structure is no longer there, that it’s something else standing there in place of the media institutions that formed the basis of democracy.