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The Future

The remainder of this page was written in late 1999 before the Wall Street Internet bubble burst. The twentieth anniversary of the IBM PC in August 2001 has occasioned much commentary on the past and future and given the faddish nature of the popular press, current pessimism leads some to ask if we weren't expecting too much from the Internet in particular and computers in general. What I wrote below was based on the continued development of existing technologies and extending current trends, not on any one or several hot companies or speculative technologies. In the late summer of 2001, I see no reason to change a single word of what I wrote nearly two years ago.

Ultimately the web and the networked applications that grow from it will be the sixth most important technological advance in human history surpassed only by the wheel, the printing press, the assembly line/mass production techniques, the transistor and the computer.

Depending on your point of view, the web and the Internet and their successors may be the fourth most important technology advance. Though the web and the Internet are completely dependent on both the computer and the transistor, it's the web and its successors that will allow these precursor technologies to reach their potential.

The web allowed the first truly widespread communications between otherwise unrelated computers around the world. In the future, HTTP, the protocol on which today's web is based will be superceded by other protocols but an ever growing web of connections will eventually directly or indirectly connect nearly all computers and other computerized devices throughout the world. We can only speculate on some of the uses to which these connections will be put.

Computers have had a growing impact on our work lives for approximately thirty years. Their direct impact on most of our non work lives has been very small. Even today, despite all the publicity the Internet gets, retail purchases over the Internet are only a few percent of the total. The coming changes in how we live and work ultimately caused by the web and its successors will make the previous changes caused by computers look like a minor blip.

They might even surpass the changes caused by the first three technologies that I listed. It doesn't require imagination to foresee the end of the office as we know it today. All the technologies necessary to provide a complete virtual office for most white collar workers are already exist. It simply requires making things faster, more reliable, more convenient and combining functions that today exist as separate applications. The only real reason many of us need to go to work today are meetings. Combine the virtual reality of games with video conferencing and virtual meetings are only a matter of time. The stuff of science fiction only a few years ago requires nothing more than the extension and combination of existing technologies.

At this nascent stage in the networked world no one can predict how these changes will ultimately impact society and organizations but one thing is certain. Any organization that fails to make full use of these technologies and is not able to transform itself to adapt to the coming changes will become as obsolete and extinct as buggy whip manufacturers.

Though I list the printing press as the second most important technology advance in human history, its obvious to me that the printing press and the entire mass printing industry are just as doomed today as the buggy whip industry was in 1900. When every household in the developed world with a moderate amount of discretionary income has a fast full color printer connected to a network that can retrieve any information publicly available anywhere in the world and print only what the user wants, of what possible use is the massive trash producing printing industry.

Going somewhat further out, even paper itself is not likely to survive. When light weight flat panel display technology reaches today's printer resolution and is connected to the network with high speed wireless communications, paper will be obsolete. Our entertainment will be delivered via large wall mounted displays and we will each carry voice activated devices that will replace all need for printed materials. My guess is that these will be about the size and weight of a clipboard but there will be a variety of sizes for different situations. These devices will also respond to any hard pointed stylus where we need to perform precise positional and drawing type actions. It seems clear to me that though I don't expect to live to see many of these changes that they are simply a matter of when and not if.

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Copyright © 2000 - 2014 by George Shaffer. This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in (or These terms are subject to change. Distribution is subject to the current terms, or at the choice of the distributor, those in an earlier, digitally signed electronic copy of (or cgi-bin/ from the time of the distribution. Distribution of substantively modified versions of GeodSoft content is prohibited without the explicit written permission of George Shaffer. Distribution of the work or derivatives of the work, in whole or in part, for commercial purposes is prohibited unless prior written permission is obtained from George Shaffer. Distribution in accordance with these terms, for unrestricted and uncompensated public access, non profit, or internal company use is allowed.

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