2014 – Will the Internet become more manageable and less disruptive?

The Internet is obese. It is a huge mass of constantly growing content that is becoming misshapen and less structured as time goes by. The Atlantic described the Internet as a place where, in the last few years, order has become so hard to create that “importance, above-the-foldness – is based exclusively on newness”. If everything new is important how can anyone hope to keep up? In 2014 we’ll hear more about how people, tech companies and even nations are carving out their own more manageable and less disruptive online worlds. The following four trends are examples of that.

ONE – Concentration: In 2014 people will become acutely aware of how distracted they’ve become by social media, 24 hour rolling entertainment and endless content. Digital Sabbaths (web free days) and email free afternoons will become commonplace.

Technological developments will help people take more time away from this constant stream. Emerging tools, like Anti Social, allow users to select and block specified websites from their devices during office hours. Other tools, like Siesta Text, send tailored holding notices to those contacting you in order to buy you time before replying.

In 2009 the psychology professor David E Meyer said, “the social norm is that you should respond within a couple of hours, if not immediately. If you don’t, it is assumed you’re out to lunch mentally out of it socially, or don’t like the person who sent the email”. This social norm will dilute a little in 2014. It’s cool to play hard to get.

In one of my other posts on this blog (“Would you subscribe if they paid you”) I make the case that companies will try to use this trend to recapture some of the scarcity that the Internet took away.

TWO – Temporary: The Internet is becoming a vast searchable archive of our own embarrassment. Our tormentors and employers can trawl up drunken photos and ill-advised posts from years ago. Add to that our increased concern about privacy and what happens to our data. The idea of trusting any company that tells us they aren’t evil is long dead.

On the other hand scientists have discovered that posting about ourselves on social media triggers something super-stimulating in our brain (that thing is Dopermine, described by The Observer as “the Kim Kardashian of neurotransmitters”) which means we aren’t going to hold back anytime soon. So the idea that our posts have a time limit and will disappear is an appealing one.

Snapchat has pioneered the erasable model. The Wall Street Journal reported that “before Snapchat, the erasable Internet wasn’t an option. The Forever Internet seemed the only way. Now, with users, investors and engineers rushing to ephemeral-data apps created in Snapchat’s image, forever-ness isn’t assumed”. 2014 will see tech companies considering this new model.

However, the trouble with the erasable Internet is that useful data is erased as well – and companies are planning big data futures. For consumers, their data is often their currency, giving them free access to products they might otherwise have to pay for. Will customers be as keen on Temporary if it means they have to pay for stuff in future?

THREE – Splinternet: A phrase you’ll hear used more in 2014. It refers to the emergence of parallel Internets that would be run as distinct, private and autonomous universes.

In part, this is likely to happen for geographical reasons as nation states impose their own standards on the Internet. Brazil, for example, is seeking to limit the flow of information over the Internet to the US following reports that the US spied on their president. They are proposing in-country data storage requirements under an Internet bill being considered by the country’s legislature. This, with other examples, point to the splintering of the Internet along national borders.

As well as national divisions, the Internet could splinter between platforms and devices as technology companies seek to hold you in their ecosystem. Companies are focussed on increasing their revenue through targeted advertising to their own proprietary user base. “In the Splinternet age”, reports the Atlantic “ads are more tightly controlled by platform”. It will make it harder for marketers to create a unified experience as new and emerging devices become less compatible with each other.

FOUR – Quiet Technology: The way we access information can make us feel overwhelmed. In 2013 The University of Texas found that accessing a number of news sites on a PC can feel more overwhelming than accessing the same number of news sites on a smartphone. The reason is that the smartphone fits more seamlessly with our lives and the experience feels less disruptive. Reducing disruption can reduce the feeling of being overpowered.

The “internet of things”, where everyday devices harness the power of the web to work together efficiently and seamlessly, is becoming a well-established trend. Brand Republic reports that “As devices become better connected with each other and human biology, they will become less disruptive to everyday life”. New developments will ensure the technology we use will become even less interruptive. A wristwatch device, for example, is just that one step less disruptive than a smartphone in our pocket or bag.

In this seamless world anything that jerks us back into consciousness will grate. This has implications for advertising which traditionally works on an interruption model. Marketers will have to work hard to advertise in this quiet, uninterrupted new world. It also has implications for tech companies who, in the Splinternet world, are making it harder for people to use a mix of devices from different manufacturers. The lure of living in such a smooth world will be a carrot used by technology companies hoping to attract and hold people in their ecosystem.

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