The future of the internet

19:17, Jul 15 2014

It is useful, I always think, when imagining the future, to have a look at the past.

See how much things have changed, then multiply that by a zillion and you'll get a rough idea of the rate of evolution you may be in for next.

I spent most of last week surrounded by a charming bunch of geeks and nerds, pondering what the internet might look like over the next 25 years.

Keynote speeches and discussions were live-streamed around the globe. Some people put their hands up to ask questions, others sent them via the website.

As well as hearing murmurs of agreement or dissent, you could read individual reactions on Twitter projected onto huge screens in real time. The writing was, quite literally, on the wall.

Not that low-tech was banished. More than one breakout session employed Post-its and whiteboards, and sign-language interpreters helped make even the dullest presentation a thing of visual beauty.


Open access is a major tenet of the internet and every effort was made to ensure geography or physical disability didn't lock anyone out.

As we canvassed issues such as privacy and the right to be forgotten, I multi-tasked the crap out of it. I listened, talked, watched Twitter, wrote tweets, took notes, checked Facebook and emails, flicking blithely from tablet to phone to paper.

Amazing, really. I didn't grow up with any of these things - not even Post-its. I was at primary school before even television arrived in New Zealand.

I grew up with one household telephone in the family room - a different kind of challenge to our privacy.

Never mind wifi - I was in my teens before the blow-dryer was invented. If you woke up one morning with stupid hair, that's the hair you were stuck with till next bath day.

All messages arrived by post. The scent of daphne always makes me think of my birthday because it bloomed beside our letterbox during the week I'd hang out there, waiting for cards holding postal notes from grandmothers and great-aunts.

This year, I turned on my laptop and found my internet homepage was illustrated with cakes and candles. I ran the mouse over the image, wondering which person in history was being celebrated.

"Happy Birthday, Michele!" Google shouted. It was both delightful and disturbing.

And yes, I understand it's an algorithm and, at some point, I must have fed my date of birth into said algorithm, but it still smells like witchcraft and sorcery to me.

Here's a really magical idea canvassed during the hui. Online safety and security remain serious issues, but maybe we'll collectively chill out about playful youthful indiscretions staying on social media forever.

In the future, every 35-year-old job applicant will have, somewhere in their internet profile, a photo from that time they were 19, completely hammered and dressed in a bunny suit. If the internet won't let us forget, it is possible we will all get better at forgiving.

The Press