Michael RogersAlthough much of our lives is already impacted by the cybersphere — how we shop, how we live, how we work, how we date — there’s “much, much more to come,” said Practical Futurist Michael Rogers.

The virtualization of America, and ultimately the world, is one of the biggest transitions in human history since urbanization, says Rogers who shared his insights about the future of hardware, software and networks at a Digital Publishing Alliance event at RJI.

In 2004, there were no iPhones and YouTube had not been created yet. Facebook only had 10,000 members and they had to have an educational institution email address to join. A 24-inch flat screen LCD television cost $3,000.

The iPhone is now in its fifth edition, 60 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute and Facebook has more than one billion users. A 24-inch LCD television can be bought for less than $200. Laptops are still important to consumers but smartphones and tablets are becoming more of the norm.

With technology changing at so rapid a pace and people accepting technology more quickly, imagine where the U.S. will be by 2020? Rogers asked. Those born in 2020 will need to learn what “offline” means because online will be the norm, said Rogers.

A futurist’s look at the rest of the decade…

 • What is the future of smart phones?

If smart phones get any larger, they won’t fit easily in a pocket. Fingers aren’t getting any smaller to type on tiny keyboards.

While attending a mobile/wireless show in Barcelona, Rogers saw some unique technology from other parts of the world.

  1. Virtual keyboard — One company demonstrated a prototype phone with a virtual keyboard and a picoprojector. A small chip was placed on the front of the phone and projected a keyboard in bright red letters on a flat surface in front of the phone. A high-resolution color image was also projected on the wall through the pico projector. The projector phone is currently sold in Korea and China, although it’s not clear if it will arrive in the U.S.
    1. Brookstone virtual keyboard
  2. Pen sized computer — Fujitsu demonstrated a prototype of a pen-sized computer, with tripod legs, that used a similar virtual screen and projector.
    1. What the future holds: Pen computers
  3. Heads up goggles — Several companies including Google are working on goggles that would connect Bluetooth to a mobile device and project a screen of the mobile device in the glasses, making the screen appear to float in the air in front of the individual.
    1. Google Glass

“We’ll probably see some rudimentary heads up glasses in 2013 but really good ones, at consumer prices, are probably still four to five years away,” said Rogers.

• Wireless broadband will be everywhere

The United States ranks 17th in the world in terms of broadband connectivity. However, there are a number of forces expected to change that.

  1. There is quite a bit of technology, which has not yet been released, that will make wireless broadband technology more efficient, said Rogers. 
  2. When the television industry switched from analog to digital television, spectrum space was freed up. “Engineers call it beachfront spectrum because it is the most valuable spectrum in the electromagnetic frequency range,” said Rogers.
  3. Just as important as the technology, six months ago the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the Universal Service Fund, now covering voice telephone service, would state that individuals anywhere in the U.S. could have access to a four-megabit broadband connection for a reasonable price. “That’s actually a profound step for the government,” said Rogers. “Even in the last year, it’s very clear that making broadband connectivity more widely accessible is absolutely paramount to the FCC.”

• Screens will be everywhere

Screen technology will be everywhere and become less expensive by 2020, said Rogers.

  • With the miniaturization of radios and processers, tablets will become more affordable.
  • With LCD prices decreasing and the rise of the organic LED business, society could even begin to see disposable and/or recyclable tablets.

“That is one advantage of paper so far… paper is recyclable and disposable,” said Rogers. “We haven’t been able to match that in electronics. And for a long time I thought it would be decades before we would but it may happen more quickly than we think.” 

According to Rogers, by 2020, basic tablets will be so inexpensive that for publishers free or very low cost distribution of them to customers will finally be a logical alternative to increasingly costly physical distribution

• XML Standards

Every piece of data will have a standard XML tag attached to it to identify it.

The news industry has been working on XML standards for quite a while. XML standards began with some fairly simple definitions — this is a headline, this is body copy, etc. However, the goal is to have XML paired with intelligence that’s capable of parsing an article into the separate parts into simple definition.

The New York Times indexing staff used to write capsule summaries and tags for every single article.  That process can now be done algorithmically, and properly marked-up stories can be used in multiple ways.

Properly tagging content is a key to reusing material across various platforms and to create new products. 

“Effective use of metadata is a subtle but crucial next step in publishing,” said Rogers.

• Paywalls will be inevitable for many publishers

Paywalls make sense in the long term, not just for revenue, but because they put a floor value on content, said Rogers.

  • If content is given away for free, it’s harder to make a fair use case in court when content is curated or aggregated by third parties in ways that subvert advertising revenue.
  • But, if content is now given away for free, how are you going to get people to pay for it?
    1. When the cable network HBO came along it required users to pay for content. However, this did not go over well. “They had a hard time making that argument until the mid-70s when there was a writer’s strike during the peak of television production in Hollywood for an entire season. Wiped out new content on the three networks,” said Rogers.HBO let users sample its content for a month during the writer’s strike and people began using HBO. That was the turnaround for HBO and may be a similar type of turnaround for news organizations.              “If we can remove a lot of the quality content from the free marketplace, I think ultimately the lesson at HBO means we’re going to see more and more revenue possibilities from content,” said Roger.  
  • According to Rogers, there will also likely be increasing ability to protect intellectual property in the years to some. As the web becomes increasingly crucial in commerce, communications and society in general, it’s inevitable that governments will be more involved.
    1. This could include the introduction of verifiable legal identities on the web, similar to state-issued driver’s licenses or passports. At the same time, of course, publishers need to be alert to any Second Amendment issues that arise from over-regulation, said Rogers.

 • Long form reading: a thing of the past?

There is a declining shift in the number of people engaging in long form reading.

  • People can learn quite a bit about the world in just 20 to 30 words along with images or video.
  • Millennials’ media consumption has increased in every form of media during the past 10 years, except for reading.
  • Long form reading may become more of a specialized skill.
  • When Rogers worked at the New York Times, he did some research with slideshows. He discovered that 75 word captions in a 10-image slideshow probably get more information to more readers than a 2,500-word article.
  • Rogers suggested journalism schools teach fact-dense and engaging short-form writing in addition to long-form skills. “Too many recent graduates do well with a 1,500 word piece but if you ask them to write a 75 word extended caption, they’re still clearing their throats when they get to the word limit,” said Rogers.

Jennifer Nelson  
Senior Information Specialist


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