Whatever you think of terms like “DotCom”, “Web 2.0” or “Web3”, it’s hard to deny that each internet era has its own unique characteristics. I posted recently on Twitter the following broad categorizations of the last two decades of the internet, together with my prediction for the 2020s:
- In the 2000s, the internet changed identity. (blogging; early social networks giving us online personas)
- In the 2010s, the internet changed society. (social media!)
- In the 2020s, the internet will change consciousness. (metaverse, AR, ML mimicking humans).
I’m not suggesting this is the only way to view these three decades, but it’s an interesting prism through which to analyze them. The internet — and more specifically, the internet after the World Wide Web was created in the early 1990s — has been the most important invention of my lifetime. It has changed how people think and communicate, and accordingly it has changed society. I’ll quickly explain why, then get into my predictions for the coming decade.
The 2000s was when the web became truly mainstream, and it was also when it became a read/write medium. That’s why I say it changed identity, because for the first time most of us had an “online identity” as well as an offline one. From blogging, to the emergence of social networks like MySpace and then Facebook, our online lives became increasingly entwined with our offline lives.
Somewhere along the road, social networks turned into social media — a more nefarious beast. We no longer simply logged onto Facebook to do a status update (“Richard is…”). In the 2010s, we began to get addicted to “feeds” and we increasingly used apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to upload selfies and tell the world our opinions. The rise of smartphones meant that we were now constantly online, which allowed social media to dominate public discourse — and hence society itself. Social media even impacted democratic elections.
What’s New in the 2020s?
Ok, so now it’s 2022 and once again things have changed. We had a global pandemic in 2020 that reset the way society operates — normalizing virtual workplaces, as just one example. We’ve also now recognized the over-sized power of Big Tech and the societal problems it wrought over the 2010s. We haven’t yet figured out how to defang the dominant online platforms, and we still live our lives online — in fact even moreso after the pandemic. However, there is a new wave of internet innovation happening that (I think) brings fresh hope.
My entire career has been all about tracking “what’s new on the web” (it was the unofficial tagline of my tech blog, ReadWriteWeb), and I’ve found the past couple of years to be particularly exciting in terms of internet technology. Here are my current top 5 tech trends:
This brings us to human consciousness and how the tech trends I outlined above (metaverse/3D internet, Machine Learning, AR apps, web platform, and NFTs) are changing the way we perceive the world — and ourselves. I did a Twitter thread outlining my thoughts, but tweets are ‘here today and gone tomorrow’, so I wanted to write it as a blog post too. Here goes…
The 2020s Internet Will Change Your Consciousness
Firstly, what do I mean by “consciousness”? In this context, I mean how you perceive the world and how your mind works in its environment (including our modern media environment).
The way we perceive the world will change as the 3D internet and augmented reality takes hold. If XR headsets become the new smartphone (ref: Apple’s rumoured device to be released in 2023), then our daily reality will have a virtual layer on it as we do everyday things — e.g. walk down a street or go to a cafe. The fully immersive VR metaverse is further off, but could be viable by the end of the 2020s; that is an even bigger change to how we perceive and experience reality. As I said back in 2016 when I published my novel about VR, going “invirt” will be the new going online.
As for Machine Learning and the advance of AI over the 2020s, that will change how we think and create. The likes of DALL·E is already revolutionising content creation, while products like GitHub Copilot are changing how developers think. This type of ML will impact many other industries, and the creative parts of our lives too.
So, over the 2020s the internet will progressively give us a new sense of what it means to be human — aka “consciousness.” We will live in virtual worlds and “mixed reality”, and we will use AI to augment our intelligence and help us create new forms of art.
Open Platform is Key
The 3D internet could, of course, become just as dystopian as social media did over the 2010s — especially if built on closed, proprietary systems. But it doesn’t have to be that way! I am closely following the open metaverse movement and emerging open standards (especially web standards), and I will be advocating for an open web approach to 3D internet in my columns and other writing.
I have also begun to upskill myself in 3D web development tools, like Blender and Babylon.js. My intention is to experiment with — and be a developer of — the 3D internet, just as I experimented with blogging tools and ‘social software’ in the early 2000s. If the 3D internet is going to succeed, it will need to be read/write on an open platform.
Maybe this very blog, at my personal domain ricmac.org, will turn into my 3D internet home over the coming years. Who knows…what I do know is that I’m excited about what the web can evolve into over the 2020s. Plus, like when I discovered blogging over two decades ago, I feel like it’s playtime again. That’s always a good thing on the web.
Featured image via Webaverse, one of a number of indie open metaverse platforms in 2022.