The Futurist: Back to the Future, Again

I didn't get much sleep last night. My mind was racing. It's 2010, during the holidays, and I'd been traveling nonstop for a month. Technology is supposed to enable us, streamline processes, and give us back our personal time, but it's actually had the opposite effect on my life. Advances in communication seem to have placed us all in a perpetual state of fast forward.

For instance, three years ago, I couldn't use my BlackBerry or wireless device on a plane. I could really have used that time last night to catch up on my sleep while flying from New York's JFK to Beijing, but instead our global team took advantage of Air China's video-conferencing monitors for one last field operations meeting. It's actually very cool that we can all get together wherever we are.

The new video-conferencing BlackBerry isn't as cool as the latest Treo, but the live streaming is pretty seamless. It's smart of Verizon to allow business travelers to use the service free of charge in exchange for 60 seconds of my time to check out some of their new services and ad partners. I don't even mind answering the two-minute questionnaire that earns me bonus time which I can use to see images of my friends and family beamed live to me wherever I am.

I remember when my carry-on luggage was loaded up with all sorts of devices, including a BlackBerry, PSP, cell phone, mini-DVD player, iPod, and noise-canceling earphones. I can't believe I used to carry all that crap around. My friend who works at Bose told me about this new "wavefront" directional sound system the company has patented that will forever do away with earphones. Apparently, the technology was top secret until the government declassified it.

Amazingly, the first people to use it were advertisers. I walked by this wild posting in New York last month and it was freaky. It was like the board was talking only to me. My buddy thought I was nuts until I pulled him into my personal space and he could hear the jingle for himself.

Now they're making that technology portable. An infrared sensor measures the distance between the device and your ears and then projects Dolby digital surround sound directly to you. The guy in the next seat can't hear a thing no matter how loud I want to listen to the new Killers album.

I'm glad we're moving away from the MP3 format for music. I don't want to worry about hard disk space or losing all my songs because of disk partition. It makes so much more sense to pay a flat fee to Pandora for unlimited access to any song I want streamed to whatever device from which I choose to listen to music. That music genome project has really evolved in recent years. Sometimes I think the artificial intelligence it uses to track my taste in music is spooky.

It wasn't long ago when Apple owned the market on downloads, but, alas, the company wouldn't open up its platform. You would think that with its history, Apple would have learned.

So what if all you need to carry is a terabyte of hard disk space about the size of your thumbnail? Why use hard disk space at all? I mean, unless you're in the desert somewhere ... With the new wireless standard, any tunnel, subway, plane, or train can seamlessly allow you to listen to uninterrupted streaming content anywhere, anytime.

I would never have guessed that Google and Verizon would merge and then create the first free voice-over-an-IP mobile phone. That YouTube acquisition has really paid off. Everyone I know has a YouTube video network. A buddy of mine is making a fortune producing syndicated videos on Google's network. He's so creative. His last video cost $1,000 to make and netted him more than $100,000. I'd like to see the most recent major film releases match that return. I can't believe it all started with a bottle of Diet Coke and some Mentos.

Alan Cohen is executive vice president/managing director of Initiative Innovations and Entertainment. (

Ed. Note: This is the first installment in a series of columns taking a look into the lives of different people and how they will use technology, communications, and media in the future. In this installment, we take a peek at a letter home from a business traveler in 2010.

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