20 years back, 20 years forward

When I was thirty a friend named Alice told me, “You know you’re getting older when you can say, ‘I remember twenty years ago.’”

Twenty years ago I was the twenty-something eagerly telling everybody in the room about the exciting thing called the Internet (capital “I”, please). Except for fellow library school students, eyes glazed over at mention of telneting to library catalogs and downloading weather reports via FTP.

I regret not possessing a sense of entrepreneurship in my youth, but the knowledge did equip me for a very good career in academic librarianship for fifteen years before I quit the library world in frustration.

We all know the digital story of the last decades: the Web took off in the mid-90s and almost twenty years later here we are in this post-PC age. Somewhere not long ago was the brief period termed Web 2.0.

For startups time moves very quickly: months, a few years for most before it’s on to the next opportunity. The institutional nature of libraries force a much longer perspective. Every decent manager knows you can’t project forward more than two or three years. But there are large-scale movements shaped by technological shifts that take a decade or more to play out.

The music industry is an obvious example, though it has found ways to survive in a form other than the sale of albums in stores. Newspapers and publishers are battling other pressures. And that next big shift?

It’s bound to be those big screens sitting so prominently in our homes, with some houses equipped with two, three, or more screens. And it’s not just the TV sets but those desktop monitors, too. The change will come gradually, but it will arrive. We can sit back and watch it happen or play a role in the future of home entertainment.

Twenty years from now we’ll still have large screens in our homes, but they’ll function a lot differently than today’s passive box. More exciting will be the emerging industry that provides content for all those TVs. The seed of that future is in the apps of today.

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