The beginning of a new decade is a great time for retrospectives and looking back at what brought us to where we are now, but it’s also a good time to pause and reflect about where the next ten years might take us. Specifically, how might we expect the next decade to affect web working practices, and change the lives of those of us who make our living online?
If the advances of the past couple of decades have told us anything, it’s that we probably can’t accurately predict the future, especially when it comes to technology. But that doesn’t mean we can’t prognosticate about general trends that might help us prepare for what’s to come.
Google Wave, but Better
Some would argue that Google Wave was the biggest online tech disappointment of the last year. It received a fair amount of hype prior to its launch, and at first just getting into the initial beta made people feel a sense of privilege and entitlement. That sense of entitlement quickly turned sour, at least in my experience and the experience of the vast majority I’ve talked to about Wave.
Google Wave itself may be a disappointment, but that doesn’t mean the hearts and minds of the team behind it weren’t in the right place. Thinking about the next step beyond email is a natural enough progression, and it’s likely that that next step will be more interactive, both between people and across media, which Google Wave most definitely is. People who think Internet communication reached its zenith with email are the same type of person who preferred the fax machine and the telegraph to their successors.
I imagine the future of the web to be built around context-based nodal communication, sort of like what’s starting to happen with Twitter and Facebook integration in blog commenting systems. I’ve no idea what the final shape of this kind of communication will look like, but it should benefit working only by emphasizing relevance and relationships over other concerns, like etiquette and immediacy.
Distributed Becomes De Facto
It’s already starting among call centers and other similar businesses operating in North America, at least, and pretty soon other employers will catch on to the fact that running a distributed operation instead of maintaining a physical office saves time and money.
That means we’ll see a lot more remote workers in the near future, culminating in a workplace that is completely home and coworking space-based by the end of the decade. It may seem hard to believe at this point, but think about how far we’ve come in this regard to date, and what people would’ve thought about it ten or twenty years ago.
Death of the Desktop
Well, not the surface itself, but the desktop computer, for all but extremely specialized usages. I realize the irony of predicting this while typing on my iMac, which I absolutely love and much prefer to my notebook computers. The fact is, though, that external monitors can now pretty much replicate all the convenience features that result in my iMac preference. I would much rather spend as much money as I can on one computer and have it suit all my needs, than spread it around to multiple, less ideal machines.
If anything, people will move more and more towards a notebook/netbook or notebook/tablet working configuration. The slate is the hottest new form factor in computing today, and though we haven’t yet had a chance to see how consumers will respond to the new, super portable touch-screen devices, I predict they will catch on quite quickly.
Greater portability will mean that business and public spaces will cater more to mobile workers, and we should be able to find a place fairly easily to plug in and reap the advantages of being able to work from wherever we are without diminished capacity. Picture a Starbucks with secondary monitors built-in to the walls and surfaces.
No Flying Cars
These predictions may seem bold, but I’m not suggesting we’ll be zipping around on sky highways here. There’s already precedents for each of the things mentioned above, and all I’m really doing is following the current trajectory of a few trends to their natural endpoint.
Where do you see web working ten years from now?
Image Credit: Lugi Novi