Computing is becoming ever-present, the internet will fade into the background as we develop new ways to enjoy technology without being overwhelmed by it
“Technology will recede into the background of our lives,” wrote American computer scientist Mark Weiser in 1996, in a prescient forecast about how life in the digital era would look. Indeed, in the era of ubiquitous computing, or “calm technology” as Weiser labelled it, computing is ubiquitous.
Yet, a dramatic exception stands out in our Weiserian world: the mobile phone. Far from becoming discreet, the smartphone has become the ultimate symbol of an all-too-evident and invasive technology. The average person spends around four hours per day in front of a smartphone. Add to that the time we spend in front of computers or tablets, and we find that screen technology is very present indeed.
Obviously, we want to retain access to the internet’s wonderful deluge of information (and its function as a source for serendipity), while reducing its in-our-face presence in our lives. And in 2019 we will be discovering ways to do this.
One solution to this problem is to change the nature of the screen itself. In 2018, a team of researchers at RMTI University in Melbourne and the Beijing Institute of Technology created a nano hologram that can be integrated into everyday products such as smartphones, and which pops up when needed to display data, making screen size irrelevant.
Virtual assistants such as Alexa and Siri are already pushing technology into the background, standing by to interface with us when we need them, discreetly disappearing from our consciousness when we don’t.
Our own example is the Scribit robot: the little write-and-erase robot we have been experimenting with since 2011 and which this year has raised $2 million on Kickstarter. The idea is to turn any wall into a low-refresh screen – a place to show tweets, quotes of the day, artist’s impressions or personal drawings, a kind of “home graffiti”.
Scribit, Alexa and the nano hologram are all the result of the desire to push technology away from our faces and into a less intrusive place. This will continue through 2019, as we finally abandon the notion that the meaning of life resides in the somewhat Luddite illusion of the digital-detox retreat. Rather, the internet of things will continue to grow, and we will work out more ways to develop “things” that allow us to enjoy the internet without being overwhelmed by it, and by making it discreetly recede into the background of our lives – as Weiser forecast, more than 20 years ago.