Focus: Part three - The way we live

Technology: This will change your life ...
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The Independent Online

Although chip-stored music, in the form of the MP3, has been around for about five years, 2004 should be the year when the idea of buying digital music - whether over the web, or through your phone - and carrying it around finally catches on in Britain.

The top-selling gadget for Christmas was Apple's iPod, a digital music player the size of a cigarette packet. It can store up to 10,000 songs which you can listen to anywhere (well, perhaps not in the swimming pool).

But that is only the start. Next year Apple will be just one of dozens of companies that will open online stores so that people can buy and download music over the internet. Apple's version, launched in April in the US, has so far sold 25 million songs; the delay in getting it here has been because of the tangled contracts between artists and record companies in different countries.

It is not only Apple: the Coca-Cola company will launch its own download service next year. Microsoft is poised to do the same. In fact dozens of companies are readying websites where they hope eager punters will offer up credit card details in return for some 0s and 1s, musically arranged. Alternatively, you will be able to download the songs to your (new) mobile phone, which will be capable of playing them. It will need a 3G network, but it is feasible - and easier for teenagers without a credit card.

Although people can still get music free from the file-sharing networks, there is the risk of viruses, as well as fake tracks "seeded" by the record companies to make it harder for people to get artists' work free. You can also be sure that there will be intensive advertising by the online stores. If you thought you had seen a lot of iPod ads recently, wait until Coca-Cola, Apple, Microsoft and the rest start yelling about their wares.

There is also one very interesting wrinkle to it all. Songs downloaded from other commercial sites will not play on the iPod, because they use a Microsoft Windows format (called WMA), while Apple uses one called AAC. (Equally, songs downloaded from Apple will not play on non-iPod machines.) With the iPod constituting more than 50 per cent of digital music player sales, it could be an interesting year.

One other thing. If you were hoping that next year will see fewer viruses and less spam, you could be right - but not until this time next year. Solutions are being worked on but are unlikely to have any kind of impact for at least 12 months.

Watch out for...

Steve Jobs: the chief executive of Apple pioneered the iTunes music store that has changed American listening habits and wants to do the same here.

Ani DiFranco: the folk singer, feminist icon and pioneer of online culture has spurned the record industry to sell a million albums direct online - making her an estimated $10m.

...and hatches, matches that will change theirs

Celebrity by Hermione Eyre

Everybody loves a good wedding, even if they're not invited. Celebrity love-matches provide the perfect opportunity to bitch about the dress, make fun of the guests and wonder at the waste of money - particularly since there is no danger of incurring the wrath of the bride (unless she happens to be Catherine Zeta Jones). The coming year will produce a bumper crop of nuptials for which the invitation is almost certainly not in the post. First, boosting their profiles by timing the ceremony brilliantly, are the Australian singers Natalie Imbruglia, 27, and Daniel Johns, 24 (he fronts a band called Silverchair, in case you were wondering). They plan to marry as this year becomes the next, reportedly on an island off Queensland. Spring weddings are expected for the golf star Tiger Woods and Swedish model Elin Nordegren (after he proposed to her this year on a South African game reserve) as well as Jenson Button, Formula One ace, and Louise Griffiths, Fame Academy reject.

But next year's big nuptial news will be Elizabeth Hurley and millionaire Arun Nayar (right), who plan to wed in March. Their relationship has been the subject of speculation but currently appears on course for an exchange of rings. Bombay and UK venues are expected (unless she sees through her threat to leave the country if the media persist in calling her Liz) and the happy couple are set to honeymoon in the Maldives.

The Amazonian singer and Bond actress Grace Jones and her younger partner Viscount Wimborne will wed at the estate in Northamptonshire where the gunpowder plot was hatched - provided she can obtain a divorce from her bodyguard, Atila Altaunbay. Next, the giddy roster of Hollywood marriages. Demi Moore, 41, could marry Ashton Kutcher, 25, if his mother's claims are to be believed. Kirk and Anne Douglas will renew their vows in a Jewish service to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary (their first ceremony was civil). Meanwhile, speculation continues to buzz around the perpetual nearly-marrieds J-Lo and Ben Affleck.

The new year will bring plenty of progeny. The actress Kate Winslet and director Sam Mendes are expecting. Winslet, who said she looked as "large as a London bus" last time she was pregnant, was expecting when the couple married in Anguilla. Kate Rothschild, 21, was also pregnant when she married Ben Goldsmith, 23. The baby is due in March. Sprogs are also expected for Cate Blanchett, Ulrika Jonsson and the supermodel Heidi Klum, who is dating the Formula One executive Flavio Briatore, who is 23 years her senior. ("His charisma and his manner are what's important," she has said, "not his appearance.") The Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox is due to produce, as is the pop singer Sophie Ellis Bextor.

Fans will have to wait till the summer to see the baby of Gywneth Paltrow, 31, and Chris Martin, 26. But the most curious birth of all will be the first progeny of reality television: a baby due in July who was conceived during the Danish version of Big Brother.

Watch out for...

Grace Jones and Viscount Wimborne: one of the most peculiar celebrity couplings around - woman who beat up James Bond, 52, weds Old Etonian, 35, heir to a pile.

Ben Affleck and J-Lo: will they or won't they? Will the paparazzi be there? And will anyone care?

Baby Brother: contestants Sissal, 20, and Robert, 21, had sex during the Danish Big Brother. The child is due to be born in July.

Health by Jeremy Laurance

New diets, new drugs, new diseases - these are the certainties for 2004. The Government wants many of us to face them in a completely new way, going to the pharmacy instead of the GP for much of our treatment. The proposal is part of a series of reforms that will be make or break for Labour and its reform of the health service.

The Atkins diet swept all before it in 2003 and is set to do so next year, too. There is only one way to lose weight, by eating fewer calories, but Robert Atkins proved how much easier that was to do if you cut the carbs and boosted the protein and fat. Nutritionists, the Potato Council and the Federation of Bakers might protest but all consumers were interested in was their shrinking waists.

Waist size will be among the great health issues of 2004. The growth of obesity rang alarm bells as never before in 2003 and looks set to overtake heart disease, which is falling rapidly, and cancer, which is rising, as the country's number one health concern next year.

One in five 13- to 16-year-olds is overweight and the British Medical Association warned that the next generation of adults is set to be the fattest in history. The prospect of children dying before their parents as a result of the extra pounds they are carrying is now real.

Drug companies are scrambling to find an answer to the threat with a host of new pills and potions in development. One promising compound tested by a team at Hammersmith Hospital in west

London cut the appetite of volunteers so they ate a third less food than a control group. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine but the compound has many more hurdles to cross before it is licensed as a drug.

While drug companies seek new treatments for the ill effects of Western lifestyles, emerging new infections could threaten the globe. Last year it was Sars (Severe acute respiratory syndrome). Next year Sars could re-emerge or another new virus may make an entrance. Viruses are in a continual state of evolution and there have been 30 new diseases in the past 30 years, including ebola, Marburgs disease and Hanta virus. Most die out quickly but some, such as Sars, have the capacity to spread around the world.

If a new infection should emerge and reach Britain, it could put the NHS under serious strain. Capacity is stretched as the health service strives to cut waiting lists and show measurable returns for the billions of pounds invested in it. The NHS will be a key issue at the next election in 18 months to two years and if the Government does not deliver on its pledge to modernise it, it could be curtains for Labour's greatest creation.

Tony Blair has put patient choice at the centre of his drive to persuade the public that the NHS can live up to 21st century expectations. But will the option of treatment at the local pharmacy, instead of the distant surgery, convince people that the NHS is worth saving? This may be the year we find out.

Publishing event of the decade will run to 60 million words

Posterity by Brian Cathcart

Some time in the next four weeks the first bound volume of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography will roll off the production line at a Somerset printers' works, marking a milestone for a project about our history that is set to make history in its own right.

It will be the summer before all 60 volumes of this monumental work are printed and ready, and the launch that follows in September 2004 may well prove to be the publishing event of the decade.

The statistics would stump an encyclopaedia salesman. This dictionary will comprise 50,000 biographies running to a total of 60 million words (that is an average of 1,200 each), accompanied by 10,000 illustrations (Britain's largest collection of portraits). Written over a dozen years by an international army of 10,000 contributors, it has been pulled into shape by a battalion of almost 450 editors.

The bound edition will not come cheap, though if you place your order now you can shave £1,000 off the full price of £7,500 - and then while you await delivery you may clear the 3.4 metres of shelf space needed to accommodate it.

Dictionaries of biography, of course, are nothing new, and this one is not new either. It is a thoroughly refreshed and updated version of the old Dictionary of National Biography, which was compiled at the end of the 19th century and later topped up with a dozen supplementary volumes.

The Oxford Dictionary - a collaboration between Oxford University Press and the British Academy - has taken that unwieldy jumble of tomes and given them a computerised shake, creating once again a single work running from A to Z and up to date to the year 2000 (that is, those worthy of note who had died by the end of that year). But it has done much more than that. Many of the more rambling lives of the old edition (Queen Victoria took up enough space to fill a book in her own right) have been cut down to size, while a whopping 13,500 new entries have been added, by no means all of them 20th century ones. Women were grossly under-represented so an additional 3,000 have been stirred into the mix, with Linda McCartney and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, among the most recent.

The most important change of all, though, may not be in the content but in the medium by which it will be delivered. While many institutions will no doubt buy the bound version, it is the online dictionary that will reach parts previously untouched. Home subscriptions at £195 a year may still be a little steep but the online dictionary should be well within the price range of bodies such as secondary schools and local libraries - which could never afford the £7,500 edition and were unlikely to have bought the old DNB. So, packaged as it will be with all the links, search and click-through possibilities of the slickest website, this dazzling resource should be available around the corner from most of us.

Tudor explorers and Victorian murderers, Georgian architects and Jacobite lairds, Fenian rebels and Romantic poets, Raj administrators and Welsh harpists - they will all be at our fingertips. More than that, readers with specialist interests such as local historians will be able to make instant connections - all the entries born in Colchester, say - that would previously have been mind-numbingly tedious if they were possible at all.

So comprehensive and so accessible will the dictionary be that it is likely to become the natural first port of call for many if not most people engaged in historical research, whether they are researching an A-level essay, composing a learned monograph or simply reminding themselves of a good story. The next few years may well see an ODNB craze, with separate, spin-off volumes gathering together eccentrics, boozers, sportsmen, rakes, inventors, composers, gardeners and - for where you live - local heroes and villains.

The British, it is well known, are unusually passionate about biography. From 2004 it is safe to say that they will be even more so.