See the Future through History

In the world where only constant is change, where trends and new technologies are appearing, but also disappearing in such a short time, every hint or advice when looking to future scenarios can be very important. 

It is often said that if you want to know the future, you must dwell into the past. Hence, history books can often give a new light to the future. 

“The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.” – Winston Churchill 

In the early 20th Century streets of our cities was full of carriages and horses – in a short span (just a decade or two) this was changed to automobiles. Today, the sector of car manufacturing is dramatically changed with self-driving cars in the testing phase and it is a matter of years, maybe even shorter when we will have them on the streets. It looks that their first use will be in transport as self-driving trucks. That raises the question, what will happen to truck drivers in the near future? Will they follow the fate of horses (disappeared from the streets) or of carriage drivers (adapted to taxi drivers) a century ago? In the future, there could be even more need for drivers, in case that self-driving cars would be allowed only on highways or main roads and then humans take the part of driving in the local roads or cities. This sector will be disrupted and fundamentally changed, but it won’t disappear.

During the Industrial revolution people were working for the whole day, 12 or more hours. Later, this was changed to the famous 8+8+8 plan, where 8 hours was left free. This time-set introduced the world of hobbies, gardening or even parenthood (fathers spent more time with kids in the second half of 20th Century). Later this even changed with people turning to sports (running, biking, tennis, squash, golf). Now, a new trend of 4 days working week could further disrupt this state. What will this trend bring to parenthood (more time for kids), tourism (every weekend is a long weekend!), education (will kids too go to schools just 4 days in a week?), sport (more triathlon runners), hobbies…

In the year 1770. the Habsburg Monarchy under Maria Theresa introduced the system of house numbering to have accurate records about their inhabitants in the long term. Military assessors travelled to all sites, but did not only count the population and assign numbers to all houses, they also served as eyes and ears for the central government, collecting information from all sites about 14 different topics like health and hygiene, education levels, degree of religious piety, level of affluence and the general public mood.[1] Today, people have digital IDs, their social media footprint and different virtual identities. The new generation is on gaming platforms, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. All these records provide just an easier way to get to user data. The future will shape the way how these data will be used (or misused). 

Personal computers brought revolution, mobile phones brought another, then tablets (iPad) brought the next one. New devices that we never thought about are now around us. What is next? There are not many breakthroughs in latest mobile phones presentations, but wearables will surely get a new hight as smartwatches, neckless or armbands. In the world where IoT, 5G and AI are becoming dominant, we will see new use cases for wearables, medicine is the first sector that is coming to my mind with an endless stream of data about every individual which could be processed to measure, analyse, but also prevent. As history teaches us, the best uses will not come from the technology itself, but the application of these devices and use of data. The example is AppStore which allowed thousands of developers and entrepreneurs a chance to develop applications accessible to the whole world in a short time. 

In this Century, television was radically changed. We have a generation that doesn’t know what is tv-schedule, they never bought a newspaper dedicated to TV-programmes and they never planned their afternoon or evening by TV-programme. Now, they watch tv-shows and movies when they have time for it, not waiting for it like just one generation before. They also don’t know about almost 20 years of existence of video libraries with hundreds of VHS cassettes in every city. They never walked to a nearest video library or video store, picking up the movie or two and then watching VHS cassette. Now, this is replaced with video on demand, live-sport on demand and full video-club functionality. What’s the future? What will happen to broadcasters? Today, streaming providers are already fighting for every subscriber. Providers of local content will somehow survive like local newspapers that mostly still exist. But what with national or multinational media? This will surely be disrupted. Maybe the answer is to look at how cinemas evolved through decades to comfortable multiplexes improving sound and video experience. On the other hand, history teaches us through the story of radio which evolved to specialised online channels, podcasts, but old-style radio stations still exist.

To summarise, history gives us lessons that should not be neglected. To the contrary, when investigating future trends, also consider predictable changes in history over time.

[1] The Habsburg Empire: A New History by Pieter M. Judson

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