14 years on, Negroponte was right about most things

beign-digital-negroponteI love it when people dig up archive TV footage of how people thought the future would look, because it’s always so hilariously wrong.  

So I spotted a similar opportunity the other day when I found a copy of Being Digital, “the bestselling road map for survival on the information superhighway” in a second hand book store. At the time it was the book to read if you were a member of the digerati, which I wasn’t, so I didn’t.  

But 14 years on, I paid my $7 and got ready to chortle at how Nicholas Negroponte miscast the future of the media.

And here’s the amazing thing. Despite the fact that Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and the rest hadn’t been thought about – even Google was three years from being incorporated – his thoughts have stood the test of time.

Admittedly there are a few amusing predictions:

“Early in the next millennium your right and left cuff links or earrings may communicate with each other by low-orbiting satellites and have more computer power than your present PC. Your telephone won’t ring indiscriminately; it will receive, sort, and perhaps respond to your incoming calls like a well-trained English butler.”

But in other areas, he came a lot closer:

“I am convinced that by the year 2005, Americans will spend more hours on the Internet (or whatever it is called) than watching network television.”

Mind you, the transition to voice command of your computer is taking longer than he reckoned: “The idea that 20 years from now you’ll be talking to a group of eight inch-high holographic assistants walking across your desk is not farfetched. What is certain is that voice will be your primary channel of communication between you and your interface agents.”

And he extolled the virtues of this newfangled thing called email “The reason is that it is so easy to reply and (at least for the time being) most people are not drowning in gratuitous e-mail”. If only…

Then: “An all-in-one wrist-mounted TV , computer and telephone is no longer the exclusive province of Dick Tracy, Batman or Captain Kirk.” Apart from the wrist-mounted bit, that sounds a lot like the iPhone to me.

He also predicted “acousta guides” to where you live, that sound rather like travel podcasts and “voice output back seat drivers” that sounds a lot like in-car GPS.

And then there was this: “The next decade will see cases of intellectual property abuse and invasion of our privacy. We will experience digital vandalism, software piracy and data thievery.”

Imagine trying to write something now that predicts the media outlook 2023. Nobody would come as close as that.

Tim Burrowes – Mumbrella


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