The Future Isn't What It Used To Be

By Dr. Scott B. Follows, M.C.Inst.M.,
Acadia University

One of Yogi Berra's humorous quotations, "the future isn¹t what it used to be" has now become quite profound. The speed of change in our society is now so fast we can no longer think that the future will be similar to the present. Over the last 25 years, our society has been slowly moving from an industrial based society to one based on information. This transition has now reached a point of inflection, which will cause dramatic changes in the way businesses operate over the next 10 years. If you plan to be in business in 10 years time, then you need to think about the information revolution and whether you are prepared to capitalize on the opportunities it will bring.

Let's begin by identifying and extending some current trends in our society:

1. Computers will continue to double in power approximately every 18 months.

2. The penetration of computers into North American households, currently at about 60%, is expected to reach levels similar to that of the telephone. In addition, approximately one third of North American adults are connected to the Internet.

3. E-mail will replace conventional mail as the preferred method of communication. The number of E-mail messages surpassed the number of first class letters five or six years ago.

4. Analog devices will become digital. For example, the digital camera allows pictures to be immediately downloaded for printing or modification. What will the new digital broadcasting standards for television bring in two years?

5. Electrical appliances will be made smarter. Having a microprocessor turn on heat and lights as you move from room to room in your house will be just the beginning.

6. Most information will begin in digital format and probably never generate a piece of paper. It is expected that the vast majority of consumer-to-business and business-to-business transactions will be entirely paperless and instantaneous.

7. Digital information will travel through broadband networks. The standard 56,600 BPS modem is now considered old technology in Nova Scotia, as MT&T now offers a connection that is 128 times faster. Television, telephone (audio and video), games, music, software, and the World Wide Web will converge and enter our houses, schools, and businesses through one access point. The battle between the telephone, cable, and Internet providers for control of the flow of all digital information is just heating up.

8. People will use computers for most of their office and work activities. In fact, the US government predicts that in five years, 60% of the jobs will require the technical skills currently held by only 20% of today's workforce.

9. A digital world will mean global competition. Digital money will allow consumers to purchase products worldwide without having to worry about transaction security.

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