This time 10 years ago the internet was a bubble that was about to burst. Mobile phones were simply telephones that one could carry around. A blog sounded like a monster from Dr Who. Social networking involved meeting people. Defriending had yet to be invented.
New technology spreads like a virus. It started slowly but now, gathering speed, is ever more voracious. A glance forward to the inventions of the near future reveals a world in which identity, friendship, knowledge and pleasure undergo exciting new developments.
Early in a new decade eventually known as the Teenies, the micro-blogging phenomenon known as Twitter will slip out of fashion. Those on the technological cutting edge will declare that sending messages in 140-character bursts demands an excessive degree of concentration, time and thought.
A new form of communication known as Noyz will allow users to express their feelings in non-verbal online grunts of no more than 20 characters. Early Noyzers will send simple “mmmmmmh”, “phwoarrr” and “glug-glug?” messages to one another, but soon a new language of Noyz will develop.
Critics will claim that the mini-blog reduces communication to the language of a troop of chimps, but Stephen Fry will win the argument yet again, claiming a well-crafted Noyz can convey the subtlety and nuance of an entire Jane Austen novel. Russell Brand will be accused of Noyz indecency when he sends a message reading “unhunhunhunh?” to a young fan.
A more profound change will be provided later in the Teenies when Nomebook becomes all the rage. This networking site will take advantage of advances in genome technology, allowing users to upload a map of their own genetic make-up to show to strangers on-line. Nomebook will reveal how flawed the usual forms of human communication – meeting, talking, having dinner, going to bed – can be. A simple Nome interface between two people will avoid all the pitfalls of direct contact – or flesh-crawl contact, as it will soon become known. Nomebook users will claim that their online relationships take advantage of the new technology to find truly compatible “bio-buddies”.
It will not all be good news. An increasing dependence on Google will be found to have corrupted human memory, now dismissively known as “grey-goo data”. Microsoft will launch an implant which will provide information to the mind based on visual stimuli – an early use will allow people to put names to faces within seconds of meeting them.
In the closing years of the Teenies, more and more people will opt out of skin-crawl life altogether, preferring to work, communicate and enjoy their leisure in the clean, risk-free universe provided by computers. The natural environment will be more attractive and less globally imperilled when experienced through a screen. Relationships will be less stressful. Even sexuality, shifting from the messily physical towards the purer, sharper pleasures provided by the brain, will develop and become available to all in this best of all virtual worlds.
Independent, Friday 1st January 2010