Your children know
are two ways of predicting the technological future. One is to buy a
crystal ball. The other is to watch what kids do with technology. The
second is by far the more productive approach. Consider mobile phones.
When the technology first appeared, it was perceived as an expensive
but sensible variation on ye olde bakelite telephone - liberating
mankind from the quaint notion that phones should be tethered to the
wall, like goats. Early on, we became dimly aware of a strange
facility called SMS, which would enable one to send 160-character
messages from phone to phone, but dismissed it as a stupid idea. Who
in the world would want to use such a primitive technology when one
could talk to people?
"But," you object, "this is the bogus wisdom of hindsight. It still doesn't help us predict the future." Which is no doubt true. But consider the strange case of the technology called Instant Messaging (IM). Here one notices another one of those sharp age boundaries — and the salutary fact that it's as difficult to find an Internet user over 40 who uses IM as it is to find a teenager who doesn't.
IM is basically SMS for the Internet. You download a small (free) program — called a 'client' — and install it. Then, whenever you connect to the Net, the client contacts a central server, tells it you're online and gives it the current Internet address of your machine. The server registers this and then checks whether any internet users you have designated as 'buddies' are also online. If they are, it informs your client and then, by double-clicking on their names (or aliases), you can open a private chat-line directly with them and exchange messages in 'real time'.
You're operating in what kids call 'buddy space'. IM technology has been around since 1996. It spread like wildfire among youthful Net users, but was viewed with disdain by their elders, who saw it as a tool for those with nothing better to do except exchange inane comments and salacious messages. Spool forward a few years and what do we find?
In most organisations
these days everyone is online — and IM offers a way of bypassing the
delays of e-mail and the impertinences of answering machines. The
result: explosive growth in adult use of IM — which has suddenly
become the hottest thing around. The moral? If you want to know the
future, ask your kids. — ONS