How good is your crystal ball?

Back in 2006, a study conducted for Rackspace hosting by SIRC, the Social Issues Research Centre, came up with some predictions for what was known then as ‘Web 2020’ – what would our world look like with the rise of the internet. It’s a remarkable article and worth a read – here’s a copy : SIRC: Life Online: The Web in 2020. With the benefit of hindsight, and on the 10th birthday of Facebook, let’s see where we really are.

Among their very accurate predictions, three stood out for me at my school reunion this weekend. Almost 30 years on from leaving a very traditional environment which was just starting to catch on to the existence of personal computing, many of those attending had done so because of discussions on social media – which teachers would be there? Which ones did we love and hate? Whatever happened to Sarah/Jane/Ann, who’s got her details? At the event itself, smartphones were an extension to every arm. Family photo galleries were passed round on small screens. New photographs were snapped, posted and tagged online on the spot. Old friends became Facebook friends. Old photographs surfaced in the hours after the event, embarrassing and amusing all concerned.

So how did SIRC describe this when they saw it in their crystal ball? Here’s how:

  • Mobile Web and Internet interfaces will increasingly no longer take the form of high end luxury gadgets, but will instead become utilities. We will still think of them as tools, but by 2020 they will increasingly have become ‘transparent’. Like pen and paper they will be norms, which when in use, become extensions of our bodies…
  • Technologies and applications which ‘make it’ will have stood the Technological Darwinism test. That is, they will enhance an already existing basic human need, such as the need to communicate, exchange goods and services, and shape our own identities, etc…
  • The emergence of the Web and other Internet applications as a ‘global’ agora. A market place, meeting place and forum for gossip, debate, politics, entertainment and more, potentially creating…

The majority of the SIRC predictions are already coming to pass. Alternative currencies (bitcoins), the online marketplace, voting, online broadcasting and mass media.  There is also, as predicted, a Digital Divide.  In the western world we see this daily: the attitudes of different individuals and businesses to getting connected.  Not everyone is taking advantage of the rewards of socialising or doing business online.  It’s a divide that can be crossed – but you need to understand where you are starting from, and have a real reason to change.  Are you a Penguin or a Polar Bear?  Do you work in a team with a Digital Divide?  Often the Penguins we know are ignoring the internet because it doesn’t seem relevant to them.  If SIRC’s work tells us anything, it’s that the online space is here to stay.

How can you help others to cross the Digital Divide – to come in from the cold?  If you are a tech-savvy Polar Bear, try to empathise a little with those who are not.  Check for any gulfs of basic understanding which are preventing others from getting to grips with the internet.  Find out what is making them cautious.  If you are a reluctant Penguin, voice your fears and concerns and see what can be done to keep you safe and secure online.  We all need to take the jump into the online space.


 Zoe Khor and Dr Peter Marsh – Life Online: The Web in 2020 –  The Social Issues Research Centre

Kate Baucherel – Poles Apart: Challenges for business in the digital age