Thinking about Tomorrow

Around the office we’ve been thinking about the future.  We have a new boss, some of us will be relocating to the Library in the next year, the UMass Amherst IT strategic planning process is going full tilt, and the New Media Consortium has just released their 2015 Horizon Report.

At our most recent staff meeting, we broke open a time capsule of predictions we made in 2010, and sealed up a new batch of predictions for 2020.

Wait, 2020?

For someone who was in the last high school class to read 1984 before its date became moot, 2020 still seems impossibly far off. The dates of the science fiction from my childhood have mostly long since passed (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and of course 2001), so it feels like everything from here on out is up for grabs.

In addition to science fiction, there are futurist works made by corporations to show off what they think is coming (and why we should let them lead us there). Once a few years have passed, these are interesting artifacts of what we used to think would be on the horizon: typically with a strange mixture of eerie accuracy and complete misses.

One of my favorite conversation starters is this series of ads made by AT&T in 1993:


Over the years, I’ve seen more and more of what these videos predicted come true, but with significant blind spots in both technology and culture. See what you think. If you have a class or a group that is interested in discussing the future, I recommend this as a starting point to spark conversation.

Other futurist videos worth watching:

Apple’s Knowledge Navigator – a vision of future academic collaboration (1987)

Microsoft’s Future Slate – a vision of homework, social media, and entertainment (2001)

So how accurate were we?

Many of the most common tropes imagined by futurists and science fiction writers have come true. One of the most common is the ubiquity of people talking to each other from screens.


Metropolis, 1927

As you can see from the above clip, we have consistently thought that we would be talking to each other through screens (although this did not stop me from jumping a bit the first time someone on a screen actually saw and spoke to me). Yet there are other things that no one seemed to see coming, such as the incredibly tiny, powerful computers in everyone’s pockets. There are also things that seem to be always just beyond reach, such as the ever elusive flying car.

Selections from our own 2010 time capsule predictions:

  • Ebooks would take off
  • iPad knockoffs will proliferate
  • Twitter would die off, replaced by something new
  • Home-based solar power would be common
  • Computers, televisions, and the Internet would converge
  • Facebook would be used for teaching
  • Smartphones would be in use in the classroom
  • Broadband Internet would finally come to the hill towns

For an office that needs to help prepare the university for what is coming next, these exercises are useful. Some trends and predictions are likely to come true no matter what we do, so by being aware of them, we can help prepare a response. Others are not likely to come true without effort, so by thinking about what we want to have happen, we can take action to shape the next steps.

The Horizon Report

For educational technology predictions, the Horizon Report is the the go-to resource. The New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) have produced the report every year since 2004. While the report has its critics, it is widely read in higher education leadership circles. This makes it a good source of common vocabulary, no matter its apparent accuracy.

In my next post, I will dive into what the 2015 Horizon Report thinks 2020 will bring. In the meantime, here are summaries of the key predictions from the 2010 Horizon Report on where they thought we would be by now:


Key Trends:

  • The role of the University will be transformed by the widespread availability of resources and relationships on the Internet
  • People will expect to work and learn whenever and wherever they want.
  • Technologies will increasingly be cloud-based
  • Student work and learning will become more collaborative


Critical Challenges:

  • The changing role of the academy
  • The emergence of new forms of scholarly publishing and research
  • Increasing importance of Digital literacy across disciplines
  • Shrinking budgets will cause institutions to focus on key goals


Technologies to watch:

  • Mobile Computing will be widespread
  • Open Content will reach the mainstream
  • Electronic Books will see an upswing of acceptance
  • Augmented Reality will be in use for education
  • Gesture-based computer interfaces will be common
  • Visual data analysis will improve access to complex data