This is just a sneak peek from Klaus’ feature in SCENARIO 5:2013. If you are not a current subscriber to SCENARIO or a member of The Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, then subscribe or get in touch with us here.
The media world has been radically transformed over the last 15-20 years. We can look forward to equally great changes towards 2030. Read more about what to expect.
Before looking 17 years ahead to the media in 2030, we can try looking 17 years back to 1996 – providing us with an idea of how much the media world can change in less than two decades. In 1996, World Wide Web was in its infancy. Microsoft’s browser Internet Explorer had been introduced the previous year, and the first popular browser, Netscape, in December 1994. A typical mobile phone weighed almost half a kilogram, and it didn’t have any camera and only a tiny screen. The world’s first SMS had been sent just four years previously, in December 1992. The first DVD movies were introduced in 1995, and VHS still dominated the video market. There were flat-screen TV sets in 1996, but rarely larger than 30″.
Since then, things have gone fast. We now have smartphones, e-books, online bookshops, print-on-demand, streaming services for movies and music, giant 3D flat-screen TV sets with HD resolution, and much more. Perhaps more importantly, we have seen a change in the power structures of the media world, where users have gained the ability to access media directly, bypassing hierarchical and closed distribution systems, and to create and distribute media with means already at hand: mobile phones, personal computers, and the internet. The volume of produced media grows enormously; for instance, more than 100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. The number of published book titles and music tracks has grown almost by a factor of 50 the last ten years. In spite of regular whining from the media industry about hard times, the turnover in music, movies, computer games, and books has grown significantly in recent years in spite of the financial crisis . The money flow has simply shifted, with a greater part going directly to the artists and to new internet-based distribution channels.
The media revolution is thus well underway, but what can we expect in 2030?
The safe predictions
An easy prediction is that we will get more of the same:
It is just as easy to predict what will disappear entirely or mostly:
All of the above are fairly certain developments. It is more difficult, but also more interesting, to conjecture on whether we will see any ground-breaking changes, like the shift we are currently seeing from physical media to purely digital media. It is such conjecture that the remainder of this article will concentrate on.
We are already slowly moving away from the traditional user interface of screen and keyboard. On smartphones and tablets, we have become used to touchscreens and voice-controlled functions. Gaming consoles like Nintendo Wii and Kinect for Xbox make it possible to transfer our bodies’ movements to computer games. The latest for smartphones and computers is ‘gesture recognition’, where you can control programs by moving your hands in the air in front of the device.
Google’s new product Google Glasses frees your hands entirely. The screen and electronics are built into a pair of glasses, and you can control the gadget with spoken commands and even by blinking your eyes. The product still has some aesthetic challenges, and it isn’t as discreet to speak commands as it is to punch them in. However, Google Glasses point towards the radical new possibilities that technological advances can give us.
For some time, it has been possible to control computers and smartphones with the power of thought through a helmet that reads nerve impulses and transforms them to electrical signals. The systems haven’t really caught on, however, in part because you need to wear a helmet and because the control isn’t as easy or precise as traditional user interfaces. However, we can easily imagine that the technology will be much improved by 2030, possibly by using micro-implants that can be imbedded with light and fast procedures. This will provide a very natural way of interacting with electronics, particularly if it is possible to produce feedback to the brain, e.g. transmitting images directly to the brain’s visual centres. It may become possible to not just add images to what the eye sees, but also remove or edit what the eye actually sees, blending reality and fantasy in a convincing manner. Experiments with such feedback haven’t come very far yet, but a lot can happen in 17 years.
An innovation that we will likely see in the next few years is screens that can be folded or rolled, allowing you to easily carry a large screen in your pocket or bag. There have been attempts to this effect, but no convincing implementations. Polymer-based electronics, which many consider the future for consumer electronics, allow not only bendable screens, but also bendable electronic circuits. However, there is a world of difference between ‘bendable’ and ‘foldable’, and a commercial product should stand up to being folded and unfolded thousands of times. A foldable screen could alternatively be made from several rigid screens that lie so close together that you don’t notice the gap. No matter the method, we will get a device that combines the large screen from a traditional computer with the easy portability of the mobile phone.
There have been some experiments with holographic displays where a three-dimensional image hovers before or above a screen. Unlike the 3D techniques used today, holographic images are truly three-dimensional – the image elements are actually where they seem to be. The problem is that such an image only can be seen clearly in darkness, since light passes right through it. We will probably see holographic displays in some situations, like in special arena cinemas where you can see gladiator fights and other spectacles in true 3D, but they are unlikely to be the next big thing in mobile units or living-room media centres.
The media market
It is relatively simple to conjecture about future media technology, since most of the technology we will have in 2030 already is in the pipeline today. It is a different matter with business models and market structures, since political decisions can be a big influence. Will an extension of copyright terms reduce the amount of content in public domain? Will a tightening of copyright rules make some business models impossible, or will a softening of the rules on the contrary allow entirely new models? Will society tolerate de-facto media monopolies or move in to stop them? Will attempts be made to counter the growing economic inequality, or will it be accepted as long as nobody outright starves? These uncertainties make it necessary to consider several possible scenarios for the media world in 2030.
Below, we outline three very different possibilities:
A small elite of media creators has the entire world …
Image via Flickr
 See e.g. the report ”The Sky is Rising”, www.techdirt.com/skyisrising/