What Does the Future Hold?

I recently read a USA Today series, “The Next 30 Years” (September 30, 2012) regarding the future. As I read, I wished my grandmother were around to enjoy the predictions. She reveled in talking about how many changes occurred in her lifetime—from riding her pony to school to learning to drive her first T-model, to taking a plane to Paris, to using a CCTV or electronic magnifier, as we know it today, to read the old-fashioned newspaper.

Intrigued with the prognostications, I thought I would share a few with you for you to reflect on how the changes suggested will impact your life as person with vision loss, family member or professional in the field living in the 21st Century!

  • Smaller homes, smaller yards, smaller cars, walking more, driving less, living closer to our neighbors—sounds like a Baby Boomer’s dream come true! But surprise, surprise, Main Street USA reborn in the New Urbanist movement, co-founded by Andres Duny.
  • Digital news with even more convergence of user contributions and the “news,” flying cars (hmm didn’t we see that in “Back to the Future?”), hologram technology (back to Disney)—let’s hear it for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and all the other social media that permeate our daily lives.
  • Robots and avatars, computerized kitchens, smart appliances, fewer restaurants—sounds somewhat boring but perhaps healthier and definitely easier.
  • Lifelong medical treatment through a gene-sequencing machine, brain implants, health apps aimed at prevention, doctors as “information managers,” says Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health—what a potential impact for people with inherited eye conditions.
  • What about jobs? “The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs into two categories: people who tell computers what to do and people who are told by computers what to do.” (Tim Mullaney, USA Today). Andressen Horowitz, co-author of the Netscape browser, adds “study STEM (science, technology, engineering and Math) to stay ahead.” Think about the implications of this advice for kids who are blind or low vision.
  • Shopping with digital fitting rooms and mirrors, mobile purchases through cellphones. Where, oh where will the cash register go? Blake Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom’s, says: “The cash registers of today (won’t exist) anymore.” This development could be a boon for everyone who loves apps, iPhones and androids (or what these will evolve into).
  • Personal technology—Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, prognosticates that personal technology will so infuse our lives that it will be taken for granted in daily life. In fact, he believes that it is attitude that will affect how far we go with technology, not the actual technology itself.
  • Education—imagine a classroom without grades, free education, except you have to pay for your diploma; homework completed in class rather than at home while you do the fun stuff in class, with thousands of others.
  • Adventure spaceflight for the masses powered by clean fuel. Instead of that cruise to Alaska, envision a cruise to Mars or the Moon—remember the old tune, “Fly me to the Moon”? It will probably make a comeback but with a different beat.
  • Smart phones meshed with cars; cars that keep track of your health! Autonomous driving—better known as “cars that drive themselves”—exciting prospects for people with vision loss or other issues that affect personal mobility.
  • Television evolving two ways—larger screens at home and 3D interactive TV glasses for those on the go. Menus that allow the viewer to change the endings of favorite shows—how will that impact our thinking about our own lives!
  • Reading—the revolution in this all-important area has already affected us with choices of how to read—print, audio, digital delivery. In the span of just a few years we have seen the “physical page” be upstaged, adding variety, choice, access, and, yes, more interest in reading, according to Gina Centrello, president of Random House, who states that “We are living in an age as revolutionary as Gutenberg.”
  • Through it all, coupons still prevail—the more things change, the more they stay the same—coupons are still in vogue (at least in this article about the future!). The catch is now you have to access them through Facebook. Wonder how you will get them in 2042?

How will these changes affect your world? Certainly some concepts suggested by these “visionaries” have the potential of making life easier for people with vision loss and breaking down the traditional barriers that so long have kept people from reaching their potential, and, indeed, often meeting even basic needs. So put on your thinking caps (now there is a thought that may indeed be within the realm of possibility!) and join the visionaries of the world in coming up with new solutions to living. What’s more…

You have your chance this week to find out more about what the technology gurus in our field are thinking. The October-November 2012 Special Issue on Technology of the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (JVIB) is available online! The special issue features a thought-provoking interview with technology guru George Kerscher, as well as numerous research and practice articles and features on every aspect of technology and people with visual impairments.

During the week of October 16, readers can use the comment-on-this-article-feature in JVIB Online to ask questions of and engage in discussion with Guest Editors Jim Fruchterman and Donna McNear, authors, and other readers. Scroll to the bottom of any article or feature in the Special Issue on Technology and select the “Post a Comment” link to participate.