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Looking back to look forward

Bill Gates once said (to paraphrase) that we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.

Last week marked the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, and during the commemoration of the anniversary there was much reflection on the effect of the attacks and what had changed – in terms of society, politics, international relations, and much more – since the attacks occurred. It’s also interesting to look back at what technology was like, and what has changed since 2001. In doing so, one would have to concur with Gates: the technological advancements that have occurred in the past decade would scarcely have been imagined at the start of this period.

Sure, the Internet was available, and we had almost reached the stage where we had a PC on every desk and in every home. But there were many other changes ahead.

In 2001, the state of the art smartphone may have been touch-sensitive, but you used a stylus to navigate its user interface; more likely, most of us were just starting to use text messaging. Multi-touch devices, natural user interfaces and “app stores” were either unimagined, or were ideas confined to research laboratories or movie sets.

Back then, social media meant passing a newspaper around the living room. Twitter was a sound that a bird made. Foursquare, in New Zealand at least, was the name of the corner convenience store. Facebook and YouTube were nowhere in sight. And what did most of us think a tablet was?

In the Microsoft world, Windows XP was launched a month after September 11, and Internet Explorer 6 was the latest and greatest Microsoft web browser.

Back in 2001, it was CNN that communicated to the world that the twin towers had been hit – that was how most of us learned of the incident, here in New Zealand at least. Of course, the web was available, but there was still a delay between events happening and then being informed about them. There were very few sources of “live” information.

One could go on. 3G and 4G mobile networks, broadband, fibre to the home, Xbox and PS3 game consoles – and many more – were still emerging or non-existent, sometimes depending on which part of the world you were in.

How the world has changed. The advancement of technology – hardware and software – has forever transformed how we share, learn about and broadcast events.

In 2011, and as proven by the myriad natural disasters that have befallen the world already this year, we now learn about events through a range of channels. And the communication isn’t only one-way – in other words, we’re no longer simply consumers of broadcast feeds – but each of us are sources of content, broadcasting our experiences through a range of mediums.

With the advent of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, in particular, we now receive information more quickly than ever before. And with the advancements in mobile devices, and widespread mobile and wireless networks, we can create and consume this information anywhere and at any time.

Imagine if these services were available when 9/11 occurred? The drama would have been communicated in real-time; video footage would have been captured and shared from myriad perspectives; and the world would have learned of the experiences, tragedies and uplifting stories faster, sooner and in more detail than any previous time in history.

Morbidity aside, such rapid and comprehensive communication could also save lives – people would have been more informed about the life-threatening risks and of people who could be saved, more accurately than ever before. Decision-making could be made based on low-level detail curated from mass personalised communication.

Looking forward, what will the next 10 years look like? What services will be using? What devices will be available? And what infrastructure will be in place to support these evolutions? We can all try and predict what will happen and see how accurate we are in a decade’s time. The one thing we can be sure of is this: that technology will continue to evolve and will have a significant impact on society. And that Bill Gates will likely be proved right once more.

Posted by: Tim Howell, Marketing Manager | 19 September 2011

Tags: communication, Community, Social Media, Twitter, Mobile, 2011 predictions, Facebook

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