It’s unlikely that even the most forward-thinking technology pioneers of the 1970s could have envisioned the world in which we live today. While the personal computing revolution made possible many of the devices and services that we use on a daily basis, the connections that we enjoy are far more robust and natural than our technological forebears could ever have imagined.
Rise of the Blogosphere
During the mid-1990s, the Internet’s widespread adoption gave rise to speculation about an impending “democratization of information.” Indeed, one of the medium’s first breakout success stories was the blogging movement. Led by Blogger, WordPress and other platforms, blogging proved wildly successful in the pre-Facebook era. In addition to providing a creative outlet for millions of people around the world, blogging quickly became an important professional and promotional platform. Today, blogging is integral to “new media” outlets as well as to the online arms of traditional news providers. Most major news organizations maintain dozens of individual blogs focused on specific issues as well as individual reporters.
Social Media Takes Off
Along with other social media outlets, Facebook has taken this “democratization” one step further. Initially conceived as a crude matchmaking service for busy college students, Facebook has re-branded itself as the premier platform for online interaction between individuals, businesses and organizations. Corporations, entertainment projects and political movements utilize Facebook to promote their activities and accumulate new customers or followers. For many young people, Facebook is the central online hub through which information is gathered and shared.
Originally derided as a flash-in-the-pan tool that encouraged vapidity and eroded the critical-thinking faculties of its enthusiasts, Twitter has become an essential promotional tool. Private individuals and public entities use Twitter with equal aplomb. The former employ it to share opinions and ideas about everything from commercial products to political ideas. The latter use it to build awareness and enthusiasm for a product, project or movement. The famous 140-character limit for each “tweet” encourages brevity, straightforwardness and outbound linking.
Many technology critics argue that the developments of the past decade have largely been co-opted by crass commercial interests. It’s true that the development process for many new technologies follows a pattern: after a period of freewheeling innovation and openness, these platforms and programs tend to be monetized and commercialized. In many cases, they’re used to foster the sorts of shallow social connections that facilitate marketing and promotional activities. The Internet itself is a prime example of this general rule.
In the future, new technologies appear likely to follow this trend as well. This may actually have tangible economic benefits: Several promising new platforms and applications look poised to facilitate the purchase of new products and promote seamless exchanges of services. The relatively new concept of augmented reality is a prime example.
Although it’s still in its infancy, augmented reality promises to bridge the still-yawning gulf between the virtual and physical worlds. Unlike the erratic and clunky virtual reality interfaces of the 1990s, augmented reality technology may be sustainable over the long term. The technological advances of the past two decades may finally permit the creation of fluid, natural integration between the real and the virtual.
Augmented reality promises to breathe new life into some already-dynamic arenas of human experience. Lightweight headsets and eyepieces promise to overlay cloud-sourced information over natural or man-made landscape features to produce an information-soaked field of vision for AR users. This “layering” interface has myriad potential applications. In the near future, a regular human being may be able to walk down a city street and find places to eat, shop and file their taxes without the aid of a handheld device.
If the recent technological past has been bright, the future looks even brighter. From augmented reality to more powerful and information-dense web platforms, the next decade promises plenty of surprising new innovations.