Cheers!

You've heard the hi-tech hype about information superhighways and the digital economy. Now it's all about to come true. Oliver Morton finds 10 reasons why 1997 will be the year it finally happens
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
We've heard the hype for too long; the global information superhighway hype, the computer in every pot hype, the new digital economy hype. And you really want to believe it's happening on a grand scale, but, well, the proof isn't quite there. This year, though, things finally get real.

The harder you look at 1997, the better the mood you find yourself in. Despite the relentless negativity of certain people (the Internet is only for porn, culture can be found only in the past, politics is about nothing more than better management of the status quo), 1997 looks as if it will be a watershed year for the UK and Europe, particularly when it comes to media, communications and connectivity.

There will soon be more Britons on the Net than live in London; they'll have an exploded new media landscape to explore with their telephone lines and cables and satellite dishes. Computers cheaper than mountain bikes will outperform the great mainframes of yesteryear. We're uniting Europe, exploring Mars and decoding the genome - and we have a renaissance in movies and music to help us to unwind from their rigours.

In short, if you take a long look at 1997, you'll like what you see. That's what we did at Wired, and we came up with 10 compelling reasons why 1997 is going to be a very good year. The future starts here.

1 Critical mass

About a third of people in Britain own a personal computer, and with a new type of appliance due to hit the high street in 1997 at less than half the price of a PC, it's safe to say that these numbers will shortly go through the roof. By the end of the year the number of British Internet users will have risen by 52 per cent, further helped by the arrival of high-speed access from home via cable modems. In short, 1997 is the year the Net explodes.

2 Space meets cyberspace

1997 will see the return of the Space Age. In the second half of the year, spacecraft from America will land on the surface of Mars, while others go into orbit around it. It will be the first time in 21 years that spacecraft from Earth will have landed on alien soil. Their arrival will establish the first ever permanent datalink between the Earth and another planet.

3 The new empire

As the Union Jack is lowered over Hong Kong, a new generation of British first-time voters will look out at the world with neither a sense of ownership nor a sense of loss. They will see Europe as a cultural reality and political hot potato, Asia as an economic engine rather than a provider of take- away restaurants, and the borders of the UK as a valid discussion topic. They will be the well-travelled citizens of the global networked culture, building a place in the future rather than cherishing a loss in the past.

4 Television's big bang

Channel Five will set the blue touch-paper smouldering; the rocket goes up in the autumn when BSkyB launches 200 channels of digital satellite television. When that happens, boom go the last remnants of Lord Reith's dream - that television should consist of just a few channels, whose content is chosen by a wise elect. And with the arrival of near-video-on-demand and browser-style programming guides, the gap between the structure of the Net (many-communicating- with-many) and that of TV (one-broadcasting-to-many) is going to close fast.

5 Cracking the mother code

In 1997 we'll see the publication of a new sort of CD-Rom - one that contains whole organisms. In 1995, the first complete DNA analysis of all the genes in a bacterium (its "genome" sequence) was a milestone; in 1997 such achievements will be almost commonplace. These new digital archives will make it possible to compare the organisation and evolution of whole genomes, something which promises to revolutionise biology and, ultimately, to do the same with human health.

6 Filmspotting

MediaNet 15, the superfast fibre-optic network that connects many of Soho's production studios, will be tied into Hollywood this year, allowing British special-effects houses to build on their big reputation in Tinseltown. And it's not just the virtual studios that are booming. All of Britain's major studio facilities are fully booked for the entire year.

7 Computing everywhere

It's been said before, but now it will happen: 1997 is going to be the year of the consumer computing revolution, in which the grey box on your desk and the black box under your TV set mate to produce fantastic new technological hybrids. In 12 months' time the typical way to get online won't necessarily be via a PC. Four or more network computers - cheap, cheerful terminals for accessing the Internet - will be launched, as well as games machines that can expand into much the same sort of thing. This will drive PC prices down, not only changing the nature of the appliances but also the type of people who will use them. Computers for the people - it's here at last.

8 London's new wave

In the back streets, from Shoreditch to Stockwell, small enclaves of smart, sassy twentysomethings have been moulding digital media into startling new forms of unprecedented quality. Through growing mailing lists such as Haddock (www.haddock.co.uk) and gatherings such as Obsolete's monthly socials (www.backspace.org), these pockets of new media talent are connecting to exchange ideas and swap experience - just a small sample of the capital's digital renaissance.

9 Rewiring democracy

The choice between the Tories and Labour may not look like much of a reason to be cheerful. But one way or another 1997 will break the political status quo. Whatever happens, there is now a consensus that government should use technology to deliver services directly to its citizens. And once citizens are wired, it will not take long for them to realise that they can talk back; 1997 will give us the tools.

10 The culture of choice

In 1996, trend watchers were already celebrating the 1994 revival. In 1994, we had a late-Eighties revival, and only two years earlier we saw the early Eighties back in style. The time between event and revival is clearly approaching zero. The point is that cultural change is accelerating at a blur. And in 1997, "now" will be a more complex, richer concept than ever before - which is the best news of alln

Oliver Morton is editor of 'Wired' magazine. The 'future' edition of 'Wired', devoted entirely to the shape of things to come - of cultures and technologies, cars and medicines, space travel and life after death - is on the shelves now.

Comments