One of my favorite quotes about the future comes from William Gibson: “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” Based on this, it is relatively easy to make future predictions by looking at some of the core things that are happening today.
Some of the trends I’m starting to look at in terms of defining how the next generation will work include
- The rise of always-on high-speed internet connections
- The IPzation of everything
- The drop in the price of real-world sensors
- The rise of participatory applications
Looking at each of the components individually, it is hard to form a picture of where the world is going. However, looking at them together and how they interact, a picture starts to form.
A seismic generational shift
We are now starting to reach the tipping point in what will be a major generational shift. Over the next few years, people who were born in the Internet era (ie. after the Internet became commonplace) will start entering the workforce. In a way, my generation (I’m 35) was too old to be part of this shift. Younger people, however, are used to a word where IM, email, SMS, and always-on communication is an inalienable right.
I believe this will force companies to start dropping restrictions on such uses of the network. Already, we are seeing more corporations adopt Instant Messaging (IM) as an approved form of communication (primarily for corporations with widely distributed workforce) to tag along with email, which has now become a de-facto in business. IM has changed some of the factors inherent to communication in the past: traditionally, communication between members of a distributed workforce was slow and relatively inefficient (yes, even Email had some inefficiencies in terms of productivity.) As things like IM, video IM, and shared applications over IM, take hold, workers can now have meetings with faraway places in the same fashion as they used to with their co-workers in a similar physical setting.
As those physical boundaries start to drop, what’s happening is also a rethinking of how teams are organized (with a growing emphasis on distributed virtual teams) and where people have to be to work (it doesn’t matter as much any more). Some smaller start-ups even forego the idea of having much of a physical location (for example, WeblogInc, which my friend Jason Calacanis sold to AOL last year, had no physical office prior to the sale).
RSS, while still nascent, is also starting to take hold in companies. As it becomes more and more of the way data is exchanged, RSS will start replacing other methods of giving updates. With the pervasiness of RSS as a delivery envelope (and, since it supports enclosures, RSS can deliver any type of data), the way sites are authored in the future will be not through a centralized approach (as is the current model, with a web server being connected in a one to one relationship with a data storage piece like a database) but through a decentralized model where specialized sites will offer narrowly focused types of services that will then be aggregated on a page. The early indications of this shift can be seen in the “mashups” of sites like Google Map and craigslist, for example and I believe the next generation of people entering the workforce will demand such freedom to recombine systems in the future. Along with the recombination of applications, they will also demand that such flexibility exist in the way they work and we will see the rise of a more modular and flexible workforce, with virtual teams replacing the more rigid structures that currently exist in corporations.
This is the first article in a 6 part series. You can read the following parts here: