TECHNOLOGY (IN)DEPENDENCE DAY

As we head out to buy the fireworks, brats and beer this holiday weekend, we undoubtedly will think fondly on 4th of July celebrations of our past. Remember running around the backyard through those oscillating sprinklers? How about cooling off with those red, white and blue rocket ship popsicles? Remember camping out with no possibility of contact with people back in civilization unless you were willing to driving to the local mom and pop convenience store that boasted the only payphone in town?

As I was thinking about this I stumbled upon an article that was written in June 1982. This 29-year old article spoke about predictions for life in 1998…13 years ago. It made me smile to read this and it made me think about what I was doing the summer of 1982. I was 12 that summer and if I had read this I would have been excited and a little worried, all at the same time. 1982 was the year E.T. and Blade Runner was released after all.

Because the article written in the New York Times in 1982 is so fascinating, I cut and paste it here, which makes the blog long, I know. Below that are a few of my predictions, some obvious, some maybe more outlandish for life 29 years from now, in 1940.

http://www.nytimes.com/1982/06/14/us/study-says-technology-could-transform-society.html

STUDY SAYS TECHNOLOGY COULD TRANSFORM SOCIETY

By ROBERT REINHOLD, Special to the New York Times

Published: June 14, 1982

WASHINGTON, June 13— A report commissioned by the National Science Foundation and made public today speculates that by the end of this century electronic information technology will have transformed American home, business, manufacturing, school, family and political life.

The report suggests that one-way and two-way home information systems, called teletext and videotex, will penetrate deeply into daily life, with an effect on society as profound as those of the automobile and commercial television earlier in this century.

It conjured a vision, at once appealing and threatening, of a style of life defined and controlled by videotex terminals throughout the house.

As a consequence, the report envisioned this kind of American home by the year 1998: ”Family life is not limited to meals, weekend outings, and once a-year vacations. Instead of being the glue that holds things together so that family members can do all those other things they’re expected to do – like work, school, and community gatherings -the family is the unit that does those other things, and the home is the place where they get done. Like the term ‘cottage industry,’ this view might seem to reflect a previous era when family trades were passed down from generation to generation, and children apprenticed to their parents. In the ‘electronic cottage,’ however, one electronic ‘tool kit’ can support many information production trades.”

Privacy Issues Seen Posed

The report warned that the new technology would raise difficult issues of privacy and control that will have to be addressed soon to ”maximize its benefits and minimize its threats to society.”

The study was made by the Institute for the Future, a Menlo Park, Calif., agency under contract to the National Science Foundation. It was an attempt at the risky business of ”technology assessment,” peering into the future of an electronic world.

The study focused on the emerging videotex industry, formed by the marriage of two older technologies, communications and computing. It estimated that 40 percent of American households will have two-way videotex service by the end of the century. By comparison, it took television 16 years to penetrate 90 percent of households from the time commercial service was begun.

Opportunities for Abuse

The ”key driving force” controlling the speed of videotex penetration, the report said, is the extent to which advertisers can be persuaded to use it, reducing the cost of the service to subscribers.

But for all the potential benefits the new technology may bring, the report said, there will be unpleasant ”trade offs” in ”control.”

”Videotex systems create opportunities for individuals to exercise much greater choice over the information available to them,” the researchers wrote. ”Individuals may be able to use videotex systems to create their own newspapers, design their own curricula, compile their own consumer guides.

”On the other hand, because of the complexity and sophistication of these systems, they create new dangers of manipulation or social engineering, either for political or economic gain. Similarly, at the same time that these systems will bring a greatly increased flow of information and services into the home, they will also carry a stream of information out of the home about the preferences and behavior of its occupants.”

Social Side Effects

The report stressed what it called ”transformative effects” of the new technology, the largely unintended and unanticipated social side effects. ”Television, for example, was developed to provide entertainment for mass audiences but the extent of its social and psychological side effects on children and adults was never planned for,” the report said. ”The mass-produced automobile has impacted on city design, allocation of recreation time, environmental policy, and the design of hospital emergency room facilities.”

Such effects, it added, were likely to become apparent in home and family life, in the consumer marketplace, in the business office and in politics.

Widespread penetration of the technology, it said, would mean, among other things, these developments:

– The home will double as a place of employment, with men and women conducting much of their work at the computer terminal. This will affect both the architecture and location of the home. It will also blur the distinction between places of residence and places of business, with uncertain effects on zoning, travel patterns and neighborhoods.

– Home-based shopping will permit consumers to control manufacturing directly, ordering exactly what they need for ”production on demand.”

– There will be a shift away from conventional workplace and school socialization. Friends, peer groups and alliances will be determined electronically, creating classes of people based on interests and skills rather than age and social class.

– A new profession of information ”brokers” and ”managers” will emerge, serving as ”gatekeepers,” monitoring politicians and corporations and selectively releasing information to interested parties.

– The ”extended family” might be recreated if the elderly can support themselves through electronic homework, making them more desirable to have around.

Political Power Shift

The blurring of lines between home and work, the report stated, will raise difficult issues, such as working hours. The new technology, it suggested, may force the development of a new kind of business leader. ”Managing the complicated communication in networks between office and home may require very different styles than current managers exhibit,” the report concluded.

The study also predicted a much greater diversity in the American political power structure. ”Videotex might mean the end of the two-party system, as networks of voters band together to support a variety of slates – maybe hundreds of them,” it said.

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What is fascinating about reading this is the accuracy of the concern over privacy and the notion of how technology will subsume our previous notion of family and work life. Though the predictions had several ideas that are still not quite realized, like the two-party political system going away, the effort seems worthy of our attention in that the consequences, and unintended consequences, are always worth considering even if we only get it half right.

So, here are a few of my predictions for life in 2040.

The overriding theme for 2040 is Self Contained/Self Sufficient:

1. Landline phone goes the way of the typewriter. Ok, this might get a “duh” but still, the impact of this likely truth is pretty daunting.

2. Facebook-Phobia becomes the disease of the century…people have adverse physical reactions when confronted with interacting with a human face to face sans a screen in between them.

This prediction spawns from watching my 12-year old son speak to his “girlfriend” who lives several hours away. To watch them talk on Facetime, you’d think they were inseparable, the best of friends. But then, aforementioned girlfriend came to town. Once here, she was as shy towards my son as if they had just met. That screen of separation acts like a security blanket for many and the prospect of being in front of someone, in the flesh, with no way to shut down takes its toll on some of the younger generation.

3. RFID once touted as the breakthrough idea of the 2000’s morphs into NFC, Near Field Communications. RFID it turns out was a better identifier of product and proximity while NFC is more of a two-way interaction between the mobile applications, consumer, retailer and marketer.

NFC is here but its adoption is still slow. I’m going out on a limb here and suggesting it becomes the norm.

4. Communities will continue to be built not based on proximity but based on interests and industries. The free-for-all “Friending” of the early 2000’s, likened to the “Free Love” era of the 1970’s, will be replaced by thoughtful, purposeful grouping of like interests and intents. Also, the social platforms of these purpose driven communities will be the norm for every person.

Perhaps I am inspired by the intent of the recent launch of Google+ but in general, something has gotta give. I am optimistic that it will be a good thing.

5. Homes and buildings will be self-contained and self-reliant.

We are seeing this already in some of the “greener” towns in America but by 2040, I predict that most new homes, at least, will be almost totally energy self-sufficient.

6. Cars will be manufactured with materials like composites versus steel. The high-strength, low-cost materials will drive efficiency and safety gains in the industry. However, those materials will not become “low cost” for another decade at least.

There will no longer be audio offerings in the vehicle as people’s personal devices will simply “snap in” and provide the office, entertainment and vehicle diagnostics helping to personalize the experience and reduce the costs of audio equipment.

I could not go so far as to suggest we will live in the land of George Jetson but I do think the material development and technological integration will greatly change the auto landscape.

7. My last prediction is that the 4th of July will not change. We will still head out with our families with bug spray and blankets in tow to lay back and stare up at the sky and utter our primitive sounds…Oooh…Aaaah

Happy 4th of July!

One comment

  1. I really can relate to your observation regarding the whole Facebook-Phobia. I’ve noticed that in my own business (which is a small online business run from home) is that I have many clients, but I will never meet them or talk to them face to face. It can make the interactions a lot more unpredictable as people assume that this lack of face-to-face communication can allow them to act without consequences.

    There is also apparent change in social interactions of people my age in the little town I live in. Instead of people participating in the community, most of them do their own thing indoors (which I assume they spend a lot of time sitting at their computers) as opposed to interacting with people in the real world. The result of this is when you do actually see them in “real life”, they seem very awkward and are lacking even some of the basic social skills that you would expect someone my age to have.

    Anyway, thanks for bringing up these great points and I’m interested to see how many of your predictions ring true – I should still be around by 2040 ;)

    Jeff

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