Centre for Internet & Society

Our present is the future that our past had imagined. Around the same time last year, I remember taking stock of the technologies that we live with and wondering what 2012 would bring in.

Nishant Shah's end of the year column was published in the Indian Express on December 29, 2012.

And I find myself in a similar frame of mind, celebrating with joy the promises that were kept, reflecting sombrely on the opportunities we missed, and speculating about what the new year is going to bring in for the future of digital and internet technologies, and how they are going to change the ways in which we understand what it means to be human, to be social, and to be the political architects of our lives.

We all know that dramatic change is rare. Nothing transforms overnight, and a lot of what we can look forward to in the next year, is going to be contingent on how we have lived in this one. And yet, the rapid pace at which digital technologies change and morph, and the ways in which they produce new networked conditions of living, make it worthwhile to speculate on what are the top five things to look out for in 2013, when it comes to the internet and how it is going to affect our techno-social lives.

Head in the Cloud

If the last year was the year of the mobile, as more and more smartphones started penetrating societies, providing new conditions of portable and easy computing, making ‘app’ the word of the year, then the next year definitely promises to be the year of the cloud. As internet broadband and mobile data access become affordable, increasingly we are going to see services that no longer require personal computing power. All you will need is a screen and a Wi-Fi connection and everything else will happen in the cloud. No more hard drives, no more storage, no more disconnectivity, and data in the cloud.

More Talk

One of the biggest problems with the internet has been that it has been extremely text heavy. We often forget that the text is still a matter of privilege as questions of illiteracy and translation still hound a large section of the global population. However, with the new protocols of access, availability of 4G spectrum and the release of IPV6 as the new standard, we can expect faster voice and video-based communication at almost zero costs. It might be soon time to say goodbye to the SMS.

Big Data

You think you are suffering from information overload now? Wait for the next year as mobile and internet penetration are estimated to rise by 30 per cent around the world! This is going to be the year of Big Data — data so big that it can no longer be fathomed or understood by human beings. We will be dependent on machines to read it, process it, and show us patterns and trends because we are now at a point in our information societies where we are producing data faster than we can process it. Our governments, markets and societies are going to have to produce new ways of governing these data landscapes, leading to dramatic changes in notions of privacy, property and safety.

No Next Big Thing

If you haven’t noticed it, the pace of dramatic innovation has slowed down in the last few years and it will slow down even more. We have been riding the wave of the next big thing, in the last few years, constantly in search of new gadgets, platforms and ways of networking. However, the coming year is going to make innovation granular. It will be a year where things become better, and innovation happens behind the scene. So if you thought this was the year that Facebook will finally become obsolete and something else will take over, you might want to reconsider deleting your account, and start looking at the changes that shall happen behind the scenes, for better or for worse.

The Return of the Human

The rise of the social network has distracted us from looking at the human conditions. We have been so engaged in understanding friendship in the time of Facebook, analysing relationships, networked existences and our own performance as actors of information, that we haven’t given much thought to what it means to be human in our rapidly digitising worlds. And yet, the revolutions and the uprisings we have witnessed have been about people using these social networks to reinforce the ideas of equity, justice, inclusion, peace and rights across the world. As these processes strengthen and find new public spaces of collaboration, we will hopefully see social and political movements which reinforce, that at the end of the day, what really counts, is being human.

The future, specially in our superconnected times, is always unpredictable. But the rise of digital technologies has helped us revisit some of the problems that have been central to a lot of emerging societies — problems of inequity, injustice, violence and violation of rights. And here is hoping that the tech trends in the coming year, will be trends that help create a better version of today, tomorrow.

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