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Posted: October 04, 2013

The futurist: A look at teens—past, present and future

Snapshots from 1994, 2014 and 2034

Thomas Frey

Terrestrial radio broadcasts were a powerful broadcast medium, and all young people knew which stations were hip and cool. Casey Kasem’s best Top 40 radio show was wildly popular and helped define the latest trends in music genres and style.

Music tended to be more rigidly segmented into categories like pop, country, hiphop, jazz, and reggae.

2014 – Acquiring music no longer requires going somewhere. Virtually everything is downloadable or streaming. Every young person has millions of songs to choose from, and few want to be defined by a single category or genre.

The download revolution began with Napster, a controversial download-everything-for-free site in 1999. While the courts put a stop to the “free music” business model, the industry had shifted to change mode. Steve Job’s influence on the music industry began in 2001 with the introduction of the iPod and it’s accompanying library of songs on iTunes.

For most young people, purchasing music is far less important than subscribing to a personalized streaming service like Rdio, Spotify, or Apple Radio. With these services, the amount teens spend on music plummets to a fraction of what their parents spent.

2034 – Music players will have the ability to understand our moods and will pre-assess our reaction to music. With this information guiding the playlists, they will only serve up music that we react positively to.

Music will be used less and less to fill the air for a group experience. Rather, it will be channeled to us individually.

With this level of advancement, music will be used as a performance enhancing tool with many studies conducted around which music works best for situations involving heavy focus and concentration, running a marathon, or during sex.

Personal Computers 

1994 – This was the year of the Pentium processor and IBM clones. Large monitors are 17” CRTs that ate up most of your desk.

IBM ThinkPads, Dell PCs, and Compaq Computers were hot. Ten years after the original Macintosh, Apple introduced the Power Macintosh. After a three-year failed run, Steve Jobs shut down his NeXT Computer business, setting the stage for him to return to Apple in 1997. Amiga, Commodore, and Atari computers were still around but in their waning years.

Laptops were available but rather clunky and crude. The Motorola PowerBook and IBM ThinkPad were early leaders in portability.

CD-ROMS and Iomega Zip Drives made their debut along with the Apple Newton and QuickCam, a spherical eye-shaped webcam that brought pixelated greyscale video capabilities to the PC generation.

Since this was a year before Windows 95, most are running the Windows 3.1 operating system. Data was stored on 3.5 inch disks, the Internet is in its infancy and those who had the technology to connect were dialing in on a 2,600 baud modem. Telephone companies charges long distance fees if you could not find a local number to call into.

For teenagers, computers were still quite expensive, but young geeks had a way of amassing their own hodge-podge equipment that they frequently had to change motherboards on.

2014 – Desktop computers are currently in their waning years, replaced by the likes of iPad, Xooms, Kindles, Chromebooks, Nexus, Galaxy, and MacBooks. But smartphones now handle most of the heavy lifting.

Keyboards are becoming less important as tools like auto-fill and auto-correct make entries less painful. Voice input systems like Siri and Robin are finally gaining broader acceptance. Virtually everyone has had to learn to type with their thumbs.

Nearly all information is stored on cloud-based services like Dropbox, iCloud, or Google Drive.

For young people, the cost of technology has dropped an order of magnitude and most have smartphones and tablet computers as their constant companions. Being less careful with their equipment, a smartphone with a broken-glass front has become a universal symbol of teen technology.

2034 – The term “computer” itself is destined to become a distant memory, as computer chips will become invisible to users, imbedded in everything from clothing, to cars, and homes.

Displays will be uniquely imbedded in clothing, glasses, and alternatively projectable on virtually every surface.

Gone are the years of two-dimensional displays, and in their place will be interactive holographs that give a multi-dimensional perspective on whatever is being projected. Room-filling displays will be all the rage for company teams and group experiences.

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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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