"Telephone, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance."
It's interesting to think about the future, but also dismaying, as the futurologist, much like the psychiatrist, is almost certainly destined to be mistaken. But it's irresistible. William Faulkner wrote that not only is the past never dead, it's not even past. The same could be said about the future--in a metaphysical sense perhaps nothing exists except now, this precise moment, but in another sense all past and future are always with us.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project concerns itself with such things and has released results of a survey of technological thought leaders and muckety-mucks regarding what the Internet and wireless communications in general may be like in 2020. The issues explored include the form and extent that these are likely to take, the implications for privacy and security, and the possibility that these technologies may enhance social tolerance and therefore social harmony over time. Also considered is the likely growth in virtual realities (or "reality augmentation") as a part of everyday life. (All those books I've read, and I never realized I was engaging in "reality augmentation").
In 2020 my kids will be 21 and 18. I find it a constant struggle to manage what I, for lack of a better term, call their "screen time" (which in our household includes television, computer, or handheld games). At their current ages, at any rate, they can't seem to comprehend why I would want them, every now and then, to spend a little while with a book or playing outside. So it is a kind of neurological "eat your vegetables" sort of thing.
There are of course people who allow their children very little or even no "screen time." That is a bracing sort of philosophy, but I wonder about the implications in a world that will only become more filled with screens. Fast food restaurants increasingly have televisions going, as do doctor's offices and any other public place where waiting is likely. Is keeping kids away from screens anything like keeping them away from germs or allergens?
Will people be happier in the future? If you believe the forecasts, people will only get more and more connected, at least in the virtual and wireless senses, and we know that social support can only be a good thing. However, such a world would also expose us constantly to the sight of others who may be more well-off or happy than we are, which could be bad (we know that relative goods--compared to what others enjoy--are more significant for happiness than their absolute number).
Neuronarrative today has an interesting post, an interview with brain and aging expert Gary Small, M.D. about neurological implications of some of these technologies.