The Future of the Internet
By Caitlin Murphy - Web Developer.
As a singing-teacher friend said in passing the other day, "If my students don't show up I'm stuck in a classroom without the Internet." We can all relate to that feeling of not being connected to the web; at times it may seem euphoric, for example while sipping a cold beer on holiday, knowing that no one can disturb you, but when you’re sat in an empty room, it can feel akin to being in some kind of prison. And it's not just the people who grew up with the Internet that feel like this, my generation, who had to go to a library to do research up until the age of 18, feel exactly the same. We've come to rely on the Internet and it is now as much a part of everyday life in the Western World as clean water, electricity and television.
A future full of possibilities
But if things have changed this much in the last 25 years, what do the next 25 hold? Will the benefits of the Internet continue to outweigh its dark side, or will we wish it were something we could put back in its box? As a parent I'm obviously concerned about how the Internet will shape the future of the next generation, offering more possibilities but also creating more dangers, but let's focus on the more positive progressions the Internet may bring about.
The world will feel smaller - in a good way
As communication moves primarily to the Internet there will be fewer barriers between countries and a more unified approach to life could become adopted. We are already seeing this in the Internet petitions against cruel regimes in countries that were previously able to carry on in relative isolation - it has become harder to hide.
Advances in medicine
Implantable networked devices could detect and prevent diseases by monitoring vitamin deficiencies, irregular cell counts, organ degeneration or even cancer.
An education revolution?
By spending less money on buildings and teachers, the possibilities for future investment are endless. The world of higher education is likely to feel the greatest effects of this, becoming more affordable and less aimed at school leavers. It will also mean that poorer countries will have access to a quality of education that would never have previously been possible.
The arrival of the Cloud is one of the most exciting technological developments, allowing for a decreased need to own personal hardware as our files and applications will instead be stored on the Cloud and accessed by hooking up to communal devices.
As the speed of the Internet increases, it will soon become possible to download a high definition film in seconds, even on a mobile network. This will likely lead to the film industry undergoing a similar progression to that of the music industry, where DVDs and Blu-Rays will soon be regarded in the same way as we fondly remember the cassette.
Internet shopping may take on a whole new meaning: instead of just ordering physical objects online to be delivered to your home, advances in 3D printing could mean the supply of digital objects to be printed at home.
Other advances are likely to include real-time language translation, hooking our possessions up to the Internet to be controlled remotely e.g. slow-cookers and cars, and in the slightly longer term we may even have implantable Internet-connected devices with thought-controlled mechanisms to search the web inside our brains.
A dangerous path?
It is impossible to get excited by all these probable advances without some apprehension that the direction the world is moving in will suffer from its own success.
Connected but apart?
Western philosophy claims happiness is found by being 100% present in the moment and from being able to appreciate the beauty in the world around us. Will being permanently connected to the net actually cut people off from the real world, leading to increases in depression and anxiety? A common picture of family life is already everyone in the same room but on separate devices, and as a parent myself it's hard not to long for the simplicity of our own childhoods where there wasn't such a great temptation pulling us away from those around us. Just remember the last power cut where all technology became redundant and, after the initial panic, a warm feeling of being connected to the present moment and to those around us ensued.
If knowledge is king, the crown can be heavy
Furthermore, is too much knowledge a bad thing? Although the Internet CAN be used for great things, it doesn't mean it will be. Even something as seemingly harmless as Facebook can have negative effects. Is it healthy to get regular updates of the edited highlights of everyone’s lives or does that just lead to lower levels of life-satisfaction? Do you really want to be subjected to photos of your ex-boyfriend and his pretty new girlfriend while you're sipping your morning coffee? We’ve also all heard about private pictures that were saved on the Cloud and leaked by some unscrupulous people.
Darkness coming together
And that's not to mention the more harmful effects of a global network, where the darker sides of human nature have a place to come together, and encourage and inflame each other's already disturbed mind-sets. That, together with the safety of the facelessness of the Internet, may be the most damaging side-effect of the Internet to our society – without forgetting how trolling has given a whole new lease of life to bullying and has, in some cases, led to suicide.
But, as was true before the Internet and is still true now, it is up to us to use the tools we have at our disposal to make the world the best place possible, for ourselves and for those around us, and those tools now mean we are able to reach further and provide support more quickly to those who need it most. Malala Yousafzai and Stephen Sutton are household names who, with the same integrity and spirit but without the Internet, may not have achieved what they did. So as long as we make the decision to use the Internet with imagination and compassion, the benefits can outweigh its inevitable downsides and indeed make the world a better place.