A study from Pew Internet & American Life Project predicts the mobile phone will be the primary point of Internet access for the majority of tech-savvy consumers, while technologies such as touch-screen interfaces and voice recognition will become more prevalent by the year 2020.
The report also suggests the line between work life and personal life will be increasingly blurred-perhaps not so different from the world of today, where BlackBerry addicts roam the streets and a 24-hour news cycle requires constant attention from the Web-connected set.
The survey asked 1,196 participants, including 578 leading Internet activists, builders and commentators, how they expected the future to turn out. The participants predict telephony will be offered under a set of universal standards and protocols accepted by most operators internationally, making for reasonably effortless movement from one part of the world to another. At this point, the "bottom" three-quarters of the world's population account for at least 50 percent of all people with Internet access, up from 30 percent in 2005.
For the small to medium-size business (SMB) owner, the results of the survey suggest international transactions and growth will be made easier by a more internationally flexible mobile infrastructure, while the prevalence of the Web on mobile devices and smartphones, which the survey predicts will have considerable computing power by 2020, will allow SMB owners access to their business dealings nearly anytime and anywhere.
"Corporate control of workers' time-in the guise of work/ family balance- now extends to detailed monitoring of when people are on and off work," predicted participant Steve Sawyer, associate professor in the College of Information Sciences and Technology, Penn State University. "The company town is replaced by -company time-management,' and it is work time that drives all other time uses."
Moreover, the survey suggests that outside of formally scheduled activities, work and play will be seamlessly integrated in most workers lives. Pew considers this is a net-positive for people, as communication flexibility allows them to blend personal and professional duties wherever they happen to be when called upon to perform them, be it from their homes, the gym, the mall, a library, and possibly even their company's communal meeting space, which may exist in a new virtual-reality format. A majority of expert respondents (56 percent) agreed with the statement that in 2020 "few lines (will) divide professional from personal time, and that's OK."
Not everyone who participated agrees, however. "The result may be longer, less-efficient working hours and more stressful home life," says participant Victoria Nash, director of graduate studies and policy and research officer, the Oxford Internet Institute.