Whatever the case, the future appears to have arrived early. Over half the UK adult population, some 22 million people, are now regular users of the Internet. But back in the dotcom era 4-5 years ago The Henley Centre, for example, predicted we would reach the 50% penetration mark only by 2007.
With 3.2 million homes currently connected to broadband and BT taking 45,000 new orders a week, the forecasters predict that broadband could reach over 50% household penetration in the next five years. But if they were wrong five years ago, could it conceivably take only take half that time?
In the digital TV world, city analysts forecasted in 1997, that free to air digital TV would reach only 5% of the population by 2003. In fact it now reaches over double that amount, at 12.5%
In the mobile world few predicted that over 80 percent of Brits would now have a mobile, but now handset threatens to destroy the camera industry. Samsung Electronics, for one, sees photographic-quality camera phones being launched next year, with the idea of owning a camera eventually becoming obsolete around 2006. Perhaps in three years only professionals will actually use a “camera” – everyone else will just use their phones.
This proliferation of digital devices are turning ordinary people into producers of content, not just consumers. The effects can even be political.
At a conference in Italy last week Nina Calarco, editor and publisher of southern Italy’s Gazzetta del Sud, said the Aznar government in Spain “was unseated by a shower of telephone text messages”. These contradicted the traditional print media’s line that the Madrid train bombings should be blamed on Basque terrorism instead of al-Qaida. The people got to the story before the journalists.
Pedro Ramirez, editor of Spain’s El Mundo, said Spain’s Socialist Party’s call for a massive rally in Madrid the night before the election was spread by text message. “It’s as if every citizen had a printing press at home” he said.
To the techno-futurologists at least, we are actually living in a world which shouldn’t have arrived for another three or four years. Welcome to tomorrow?
(First Published in The Irish Times, 14 May 2004)