Dirk Knemeyer

Future communities

Future communities, September 18, 2003

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

We are finally heading toward the ubiquitous web.

Technology companies have been promising this for years. Science fiction literature, television programs and movies have foreshadowed it for decades. Now, with our cell phones and PDAs and wireless laptops, in places like Starbucks around the world, we are seeing the tentative first steps. Right now the interfaces and the usability are generally poor, but it is a harbinger for where we are going. By the end of this decade, we can expect to have on-demand connections in most every urban and even suburban setting – and not necessarily needing our own personal device to interface with it. And, between now and then, the second dot.com boom will have already started. Only this time it may not bust.

[…] Since the earliest days of the web, people have used the medium for personal publishing and expression. This evolved from unsophisticated and largely static “personal home pages” to the weblogs that technology professionals and youth, in particular, are taking advantage of. Publishing is more frequent, more personal and marked by meaningful content much more than has been the case in the past. It has changed from being an exploration of the technology to a reflection of the self.

We will experience a much more formal, deep and textured level of personal web publishing, which leads to people enjoying far closer relationships with one another. As people become comfortable with and have access to relatively simple features like multiple levels of password protection, they will begin to use the web to communicate with people as opposed to direct communication methods like the telephone or even email. After all, what I write once on the web, everyone I care about can read, understand and respond to – as opposed to personally re-telling the same stories, feelings and facts over and over. Time that used to be spent exchanging information is instead spent reflecting upon that information and productively responding to it. More people will understand us better, and the relatively shorter amount of personal time and attention that we have to take with one another in order to provide meaningful responses will be condensed. It certainly will not replace direct communication but will very strategically augment it – and, in the process, improve it.

While initially this will prove to build close virtual relationships, as the technology becomes more universally understood and comfortable, we will see this also be a primary communication point in our physical relationships. And these relationships will be much stronger for it, as the level and depth of mutual understanding between us will be far greater.

While the next few years to a decade will be punctuated by a growth of and involvement in virtual communities and relationships, this will shift back shortly after becoming the cultural norm. After all, along with the advantages of a virtual life come a myriad of disadvantages: relatively flat interactions, lack of tactile contact, lack of experiential factors, possibility of gross deception that can lead to significant physical, emotional and/or financial hurt, security issues. Even as virtual relationships boom to become big business and an essential part of our lives, the limitations of those relationships and communities will also be amplified.

The result will be closer physical communities, enhanced by the technology. People will use the web as a tool to maximize their relationships and interactions, but there will be a decisive movement back toward physical interaction, relationship and experience. This is inevitable, assuming the promised breakthrough of the virtual. People will be drawn back to the real, and collectively much closer to one another through the proliferation of the virtual.

How ironic: the industrial revolution and rise of science is what protracted many communities in the first place; now, the technology that emerged as a natural part of those movements will be the tool that brings us back closer together – perhaps even closer than ever.