Sometime when I was younger, I heard that generations normally shift with 30 years’ interval. So either I was just on the “old” side of the last shift, or the generations are changing faster now than my parents’ lore would have it.
Yes, I’m talking about the Internet generation. I’m lucky enough to be part of the Nintendo generation, but Internet was outside my scope until high-school. Even then, it seemed a strange and geeky place, and the idea of it’s widespread adoption by “mom’n’dad” didn’t even manifest itself. Now, they are braving the fields of the unknown, if not with enthusiasm, then at least a slight interest. Myself, I’m online as long as my home or work computer is not having a well-earned break.
But still, I’ll never be part of the Internet generation. It is composed by those who do not yet know how to spell, but who know where to click in order to play “snakes and ladders” with their friends online. They will be the first to grow up in a world where the Internet is ubiquitous.
How does this bode for the future of the Internet? Certainly, usability will be an issue when everyone is online. Government and private services will be expected to be available online, with security, accountability, speed, and reliability at higher levels than could ever be obtained by manual work. People will meet each other, exchange digital signatures as easily and naturally as business cards, and use them to ease the possibility for secure message transfer free from spam and phishing attempts. Idle CPU cycles and free storage, which is already astronomical, will be put to use in distributed computing and storage systems, solving research problems and backing up your family photos. Passwords will be replaced by biometrical or other “natural” methods of authentication. Users with little or no expertise in security, or even computers in general, will be able to set up totally secret conversations with others.
As always, the medallion has a backside. Higher levels of security will mean that people put more trust into the systems, and forget that ultimately there are people behind, creating and maintaining them. If perfect security is assumed, the results can be the disastrous when proven otherwise. Technology, like humans, does not perform perfectly. Also, secrecy is a useful tool for criminals. However, I believe this will lead to the use of low-tech solutions for catching them, and a long wanted, real privacy for ordinary citizens. With regard to biometric measurements, there have been concerns that criminals might cut off an organ or limb to get access to a system. However, this can be solved by extending the measurements to the whole body. There is also the issue of psychological damage from the material on the Internet. This issue is discussed in another blog entry.
One thing is for sure: The Internet is here to stay, and it will influence the lives of our children, for better or worse.