Future of the Internet: Mobile

The British transit expression "mind the gap" might well apply to the chasm between the development of the future Internet and current discussions. The Pew Internet & American Life Project's third survey exploring where the Internet is headed concludes that mobile devices--more like smartphones than laptops--will be the primary connecting tool for people throughout the world by 2020. It will take that long for the makers of interactive goods and services to catch up to the ways that consumers intuitively use Web connectivity. More than a decade is a long time to wait for that kind of progress.

The reasons appear to be more socioeconomic than technical. The bottom three-quarters of the world's population accounts for at least half of the people who have Internet access, which is up from 30% in 2005. Outside the U.S., the main mode of connectivity for many is the cell phone because of its portability, affordability and universal standards. Voice recognition and the touch-screen are common technology interfaces.



The original Internet architecture must be replaced by a new enlarged, innovative system through the continued acceleration of new technologies. The implication of the findings is that corporations and regulators could get in the way; the unlawful use of copyrighted materials, piracy and general Web mischief will prevail even on a more advanced platform.

Rather than a next-generation Internet, the current platform will become more elaborate with the Semantic Web and other elements. Walled gardens will continue to be created by corporations and governments seeking to maintain network control. "Effortless" connectivity is dependent on corporate and government leaders' willingness to serve the public good," the report stated.

In short, the people's will is overshadowed by marketplace forces. That is a troubling prospect indeed, considering all the good that can come from ubiquitous connectivity. Interactive virtual spaces, augmented reality and 3-D modeling will be universally adopted to enhance communications and understanding. The lines between personal and professional hyper-connected time will be seamless; the digital divide will disappear.

Of the 6.6 billion people in the world today, only 1.2 billion have access to--and use--the Internet, according to the United Nations. It took 20 years for the first billion mobile phones to sell, just four years for the second, and only two years for the third. There will be 4 billion cell phones (some people own more than one phone) in the world by the end of 2008--only 15% of which are Internet-enabled, according to Wireless Intelligence. In the future, mobile devices will be more computer than telephone, and will be more about the connective applications.

Some of the experts surveyed insist that by 2020, there will be a new paradigm; a new killer app for communications technology that will change everything. Concern is voiced about the olarization, monitoring and manipulation and rampant viciousness that will coexist with all the good that can come from future Internet developments. All well and good, but the survey has no sense of economic or business context to the continuing evolution of connectivity and its impact on the human condition.

This appears to be a particular oversight at a time when the financial ramifications of the markets, free enterprise, big business and global economics are having a destructive impact on the human race.

Of critical concern is whether or how the Internet shakes loose the shackles of advertising as its primary means of revenue support. As we have seen with television, advertising can have a limiting force on the creative and enterprise development of a medium that must put a single commercial consideration above all else.

As leading Internet analysts remind us, it is early in the game to know how far advertising and e-commerce will transform the character and use of the Internet. Equally intriguing is how engagement, relevance and the urgency of certain life functions (emergency communications and care) will shape future connectivity. The Pew study suggests that anything goes as long as there is a commercial upside to it.

Surely the assessment of today's leading Internet players by industry analysts is all about financial considerations: strong free cash flow generation, strong organic growth, and ROI. Inevitably, the gap between where the Internet is today and what the future of connectivity can be is hard to measure; there are no meaningful metrics, especially in light of today's bunker mentality and grim economics.

There is less tolerance or interest these days for elements such as innovation, ingenuity and enterprise--the drivers of these initial marvelous stages of interactivity. These are the forces needed to take social networking, social applications, portability, task-driven activities, enlightenment, predictive power and individual expression to the next level.

The Razorfish Consumer Experience Report contends that the next digital frontier will not be browser-based; it will be ambient. If so, will human behavior, creativity and curiosity triumph, or will corporations and government trump the power of connectivity? That is the fundamental question raised by the latest Pew survey. And if the current sad state of affairs is any indication, then this involuntary financial lull is a good time to retreat to our garages, innovate and reclaim our interactive rights.

1 comment about "Future of the Internet: Mobile".
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  1. Charles Cleary from Leadership Outcomes, Inc., December 16, 2008 at 2:28 p.m.

    Good perspective and valid concerns on the PEW survey, Diane.

    Planning process should entail defining WHAT the "perfect" mobile environment should look like [future state] from a regulatory, operational, social, business, economic, etc. point of view and then "mapping" against these factors as to WHERE we are today [present state]. This is a process commonly used in strategic planning and creation of a "gap analysis".

    A Worldwide standards group - perhaps under the guidance and mandate of the U.N. - should then seek country-level and end-user validation/concensus/buy-in and use this "gap analysis" as a call to action and checklist for project management and fulfillment (date certain outcomes).

    This issue may not be as threatening as global warming or the redesign of the global financial system but it's critically important to the rational and "even" development of all folks on the planet. Mobility is quickly enabling information and knowledge to reach its full value at a personal and individual level.

    The mobile internet challenge is made more complex given lack of standards, [lack of] information 'free flow' in/between countries, and multiple telecom and mobile computing platforms - just to name a few serious obstacles.

    Our new President has indicated that this issue is an imperative for his Administration and that will be a good start. A national Vision, Strategy and Plan could not only help the U.S. reach our goals but could also act as a roadmap for other countries as well.

    The outcome in 2020 is directly related to how we address these issues and challenges today. Maybe it's time for the nations of the world to address Global Warming, Financial Systems and Information Optimization all at the same time and with equal vigor.

    Have a good holiday.


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