October 9, 2014

Pew Research Center

Faster bandwidth in the next 10 years is likely to mean “online life will be significantly changed, though the precise contours of the change are not fully clear.” In a new report, the Pew Research Center canvases 1,464 experts on how gigabit connectivity — “50-100 times faster than the average fixed high-speed connection” — will change our lives.

While the respondents didn’t make many direct points about journalism and the news media, some of their predictions would of course fundamentally alter the business of gathering, creating and disseminating news:

More telecommuting

Marti Hearst, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, wrote, “These ideas aren’t new, but they will finally work well enough if given high enough bandwidth. Entertainment: you play sports and music virtually, distributed, across the globe. Co-living: You have virtual Thanksgiving dinner with the other side of the family. Work: finally, we greatly reduce flying around for meetings because virtual conferencing feels real. Healthcare: remote assessment, treatment, and surgery. More generally, more interaction will be done with others remotely. For example, your golf lesson could be done with a coach remotely, in real time, while he or she watches your swing at the tee and has you make corrections and adjust your grip.”

While Google Hangouts, Skype, and various chat apps are great for keeping remote reporters in contact with editors, much higher Internet speeds will remove much of the friction that exists today in virtual newsrooms.

One of BuzzFeed’s lessons from how they covered the Golden Globes on Twitter was making sure everyone was in the same room. That might not be as important in the future — or maybe we’ll be subject to think piece after think piece about what you’re missing by having a hologram in the room with you instead of a physical person.

Augmented reality and virtual reality

Alison Alexander, a professor at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, wrote, “One killer app that could take off is a virtual reality environment. Forget reality, live in your selected world. Visit wherever and whenever.

David P. Collier-Brown, a system programmer and author, predicted, “Avatars to go to meetings for me in Texas, rather than me flying down. Bus tours of Istanbul on Saturday afternoon from the comfort of my living room. Playing a game of football with my cousin in Ulan Bator from the gym downtown.”

Gannett has begun experimenting with virtual reality experiences using the Oculus Rift. Geoffrey Long, the Technical Director and a Research Fellow at USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab, told Adam Hochberg: “All the pieces are there for virtual reality to go over the tipping point from a niche gaming application to mainstream entertainment.”

Context-aware applications

Marina Gorbis, executive director at the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit research organization, commented, “We will make significant advances in delivering context-aware applications of all kinds, i.e., providing information and resources that are relevant to the needs and context of the situation. These applications will automatically read the environment (location, mood, social and physical settings, intentions, etc.) and provide highly customized information that is relevant to a particular context.”

Imagine a news experience that adapts not only to where you are (see Breaking News for an example there), but also what you’re doing. Amy Webb has talked about how context-aware features could be applied to journalism.

Rapid increase in user-generated content

Breanne Thomlison, founder and president of BTx2 Communications, a marketing and strategies firm, wrote, “Gigabit killer apps will be related to health and wellness and education. Tools will monitor us from birth and predict sickness and heal us faster. Genetics will be patented and evolve to have cures to current and new disease that will arise. All of this will happen rapidly. People will be able to connect with others who share similar DNA and experience a personal connection to focus on prevention versus treatment. When it comes to education, there will be an app for every child’s learning ability or disability… Children will be learning and tracking 24/7, while sharing their experience with selected-in peers and networks. Everyone will be the media and a newsmaker. Journalism will be more personal and targeted.”

The more potential there is for generating user-generated content (thanks to higher quality and quicker upload speeds anywhere), the more journalists and journalistic tools will be required to filter it. (The Online News Association is exploring the ethical challenges of using such content in reporting.)

More algorithms to filter information

Clark Sept, the co-founder and principal of Business Place Strategies, Inc., wrote, “One such killer app will be a ‘personal information assistant’—a digital agent that will filter incoming information (news, education, entertainment, lifestyle) in a way similar, but more relevant and successful, to online services such as Pandora or iTunes Genius do today for entertainment.”

Or Facebook. Will news consumers welcome even smarter algorithmic filtering or fear it?

And finally

Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, wrote, “I could not have predicted Google, Facebook, Blogger, or certainly Twitter. So there’s no way I can predict what ubiquitous gigabit bandwidth will bring. I only know I want it.”

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
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