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The Net changed our lives since 2000; by 2020 it will be all about mobile access

TORONTO - The turn of the 21st century was marked with a sigh of relief.

TORONTO - The turn of the 21st century was marked with a sigh of relief.

Mainframe computers successfully acknowledged the possibility of life in the 2000s - remember the Y2K bug? - and doomsday predictions of being knocked back into the dark ages never materialized.

In the 10 years that followed, the world went from being held hostage by dated technology to being empowered by a wave of new advances. The 2000s gave us MP3s and iPods, affordable digital photography, the life-changingly addictive BlackBerry, and advances in telecommunications that brought the world's citizens closer together.

But the one advance that really empowered populations was high-speed Internet, which led to mass migration online and endless offshoots of technological change that crept into our everyday lives.

Remember the days of paper airline tickets and the initial fight against having to rely on e-commerce? The early paranoia about online banking? Fears about identify theft and fraud haven't gone away, but the Internet has radically changed those businesses - like it or not - just as it's forced companies who produce encyclopedias, fax machines, maps, phone books and newspapers to adapt or die.

"When you look back at the last 10 years it's really been an evolution, a revolution, all at once," said Bryan Segal, vice-president of sales for comScore Canada, which tracks Internet traffic and trends.

"If you were to ask people 10 years ago, 'Do you use the Internet?' it'd probably be two people in a room of 100 that'd raise their hand. And now it's a part of everybody's life - we live, eat, breathe the Internet - and I think that's the biggest key change in the past 10 years."

In the year 2000, most Internet users were still using their landline to get on the web, and the wait just to gain a connection - while the dialup modem gurgled and hissed its way to access - typified the slow experience.

In the days of Napster you might manage to download a few songs in an hour. Today it takes seconds per song. Downloading a video was simply unthinkable back then, with modems struggling to gulp down megabytes, never mind gigabytes. Now, because of today's fast connection speeds, Canadian web users spend an average of 15 hours a month watching videos online, according to comScore.

Overall, comScore says Canada's citizens are more plugged into the Internet than any other country's, and we spend more time online and visit more websites than any other users.

"There is an assumption these days that we're always connected to the Internet and that is the defining trend of the last decade," said Duncan Stewart, Deloitte Canada's director of research for technology, media and telecommunications.

Experts believe the 2010s will again be dominated by Internet-based advances, but in the next decade it will be all about mobile access.

"People will spend more time doing things on their cellphone rather than talking on their cellphone, and that's really going to be the biggest change," Segal said.

Users already obsessed with social networking on their computers will take that interface with them everywhere they go, which will contribute to the changes we're seeing in communication, said Bob Berner, chief technology officer for Rogers Communications.

"There's never been a phenomenon like what we see today where people are constantly connected in different modes of communication, whether it's voice, or messaging if that's a more appropriate way, and now with video calling," he said.

"The number of things people can do with these devices is increasing dramatically as the number of people have them, and in the end we foresee there will be a massive increase in demand, sort of in perpetuity, of the ability to stay connected.

"It'll change how people work, it'll change how they live - and it already has."

In addition to technological changes making our lives more convenient and fun, some foresee the mobile Internet actually saving lives.

Technology is already being developed to have a person's medical data securely stored on their mobile device, so it follows them wherever they go and can be accessed in an emergency or at a checkup, said Joe Natale, Telus's president of consumer solutions.

The mobile phone will eventually act as a personal diagnostics monitor, charting a person's daily vitals and signalling trouble, he predicted.

"We have technology right now we're working on where you can attach a glucose meter through a Bluetooth connection, and as soon as you take your blood-sugar levels it can be stored on your BlackBerry and transmitted to your doctor or whoever needs to see it; the same can be done with a blood pressure pump," Natale said.

"When you go to a brand new doctor who doesn't know anything about you, you would be able to, through your smartphone, share your entire medical history, the last MRI you got, the X-ray, your prescription drug record and what you've been on for the last number of years."

Futurist and science fiction writer Robert Sawyer predicts social networking will rapidly evolve in the 2010s, perhaps in ways that seem positively sci-fi to some.

Internet users are becoming more and more like cyborgs - part human, part machine - as technology advances, Sawyer said, and that trend will continue.

"I'm sitting here wearing eyeglasses; I'm wearing a device strapped to my wrist to tell me the time and wake me up in the morning; I've got a crown on one of my teeth. ... I might have a stent or an artificial heart valve or replacement knees or a replacement hip - all of that is the line between human and machine starting to blur," he said.

Sawyer envisions social networking soon taking the next leap from the online world to real life, perhaps through special glasses or wireless technology that helps users scan a crowd like the Terminator and digitally register information about each person in the room.

"You look around and see: he's a Scrabble player, just like me, he likes science fiction, just like me, he's into pizza with pepperoni and onions, just like me. Maybe we should go out and see a science fiction film, eat a pizza with pepperoni and onions, and play a game of Scrabble in the back room of the restaurant," Sawyer said as an example.

"We will become peripherals on the World Wide Web, we will constantly be in touch and have that information; as soon as we think the question, the answer will be (there) visually. You're seeing the birth of that in the online world, and it will spill out into all of our regular interaction."

 
 
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