It’s hard to imagine a time before the internet; it seems an internet free period in history must have been populated by cavemen or even dinosaurs. Actually, the memo that eventually brought us the web was written just 25 years ago by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. If this is how much the world can change in a quarter of a century, what will the digital world be like in another twenty-five years’ time?
Some folk imagine a utopian future with readily accessible medical records and public transport networks that avoid delays using real time information. Joyless jeremiahs imagine an internet monitored by an oppressive state and marred by rampant cybercrime. They see a future when most of the web is infested with trolls and criminals, whilst the few remaining useful websites are expensive and accessible only to the rich and powerful.
Should we be cheering or fearing the future? Probably both: some businesses will behave unethically by, for example, surreptitiously gathering data on clients. This might seem to give them an advantage, but according to Sir Berners-Lee the sheer number of other businesses out there would mean that as soon as such behaviour became apparent clients would vote with their feet – or rather fingers, and move to a different supplier.
Certain companies such as Sgrouples and Ello already pride themselves on their ethical credentials. An open web could also encourage innovation and ideas. Who can really tell what the future of the digital world will be, as philosopher Edmund Burke commented;
‘You can never plan the future by the past’.