If 2001 taught us anything, it was to beware of forecasts.
Who, for example, foresaw the tragedy of Sept. 11, surely the biggest event of the young millennium? Who expected the anthrax episodes? Who anticipated a sweeping military victory in Afghanistan?
Those of us who monitor technology were already humble about our ability to see into the future. After all, few can claim to have predicted the shocking collapse of the dot-com economy, the downturn in telecom and the general retrenchment among hardware and software makers over the last two years.
Nevertheless, it is sometimes possible to envision the broad outlines of trends and project them into the future. And so, with a nod to 2001, here are a few fearless forecasts about what 2002 may have in store as the Information Age continues to unfold.
Perhaps the surest bet is for the continued rollout of high-speed Internet access, commonly known as broadband. Millions of households are already browsing the Net at breakneck speed, and many more will soon follow.
The recent collapse of Excite(at)Home won't stop consumers from signing up. Neither will the inevitable technical glitches that will continue to occur, though with declining frequency.
Indeed, the rising percentage of high-speed surfers will have quite the opposite effect. Their growing numbers will prompt development of a host of Internet services designed to take advantage of high-speed connections, including downloadable music and video-on-demand.
Once those services arrive in force, most modem users are a cinch to upgrade.
Similarly, expect to see digital photography and video take over in 2002.
It's already increasingly difficult to find videotapes in the video store, what with all the DVDs crowding the shelves. Now digital still cameras and digital video cameras give consumers ready access to high-quality digital imaging.
Combine that with high-speed connections, a new generation of DVD-burners, ever-faster PCs and ever-larger hard drives, and you've got the makings of a multimedia explosion. This year, families and friends will be trading photos and videos over the Internet like never before.
Wireless and portable technologies will also get a big boost this year. Increasingly, cell phones will take on new features, such as wireless Web-browsing, wireless e-mail, alphanumeric paging and digital organizer functions.
On the downside, both security and privacy will remain hot-button issues in 2002.
The spread of always-on broadband connections makes PCs increasingly vulnerable to hackers. At the same time, virus writers will continue to exploit weaknesses in popular software programs, particularly Microsoft Outlook. Stopping such vandals before they harm individuals and companies will be a high priority for law enforcement.
One likely result is continuing assaults on the privacy of those who travel the Internet. Federal agents have developed some effective tools for tracking hackers, virus writers and even terrorists who may use the Internet. Unfortunately, those tools could easily be used to invade the privacy of law-abiding Net surfers.
If government agencies were the only privacy concern, we might be satisfied with tough oversight and severe penalties for violations. But what of private business? Free to gather as much personal data as they like, companies are effectively using the Internet to build entire portfolios on us. Instead of one Big Brother, we're faced with a massive family of nosy siblings.
And finally, look for several of these trends to combine in 2002 to accelerate the battle over online exchange of copyrighted material.
New cameras, new disk drives and high-speed connections will make it easier than ever for people to trade digital music, movies and more.
Look for the companies that own the rights to so much of that material to increase their efforts to block the exchange via copy protection, lawsuits and more.
It's been a wild ride for personal technology over the last five years. At the very least, expect the unexpected in 2002. To borrow a slogan from Wired magazine: Now it gets interesting.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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