Facebook, Amazon and the future of tablets: Dr Jeff Cole shares his insights

Media/tech expert Dr Jeffrey Cole spoke to an audience of around 200 people yesterday about the death of laptops, how Amazon might soon rule the world and why online communities are like nightclubs.

As part of The Project 2013, which was delivered by AUT, the US Embassy Wellington and Social Media NZ, media/tech expert Dr Jeffrey Cole spoke to an audience of around 200 people yesterday about the death of laptops, how Amazon might soon rule the world and why online communities are like nightclubs.

Dr Cole shared his insights on digital trends for individuals, society and the business world, complete with Q&A session with media commentator Russell Brown.

As the founder and director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg, Dr Cole drew on over 13 years of data and research from a worldwide study on how both the internet and mobile technologies have altered people’s views, habits and day-to-day lives.

He says we missed a great opportunity to conduct in-depth research into how television changed people’s lives when it became a common household item in the 1950s and 60s, and when his team predicted digital technologies would have a bigger impact than television, they began tracking its impact on a number of individuals. 

One of the conclusions is what Dr Cole describes as the “screen-time explosion”. That is, in 1975 a typical person would spend about 16 hours a week in front of a screen. Nowadays, that figure has risen to almost 44 hours a week, meaning an average person in the developed world may spend a quarter of their time in front of a screen.

While he expects this figure to rise over the next few years, he believes the types of screens we will spend our time in front of will change considerably.

Goodbye laptop, hello tablet

The television, our personal computers, and our smartphones are the three devices we currently use most. However, Dr Cole predicts tablets will overtake personal computers due to their simplicity, size and the fact you don’t have to wait three minutes for them to boot up.

Apart from the small percent of the population who will continue to use laptops for work (designers, or people who write a lot), Dr Cole thinks once tablets reach their potential, the majority of people will no longer have a need for laptops.

He says there is no reason why tablets cannot be Flash capable and have USB and SD ports (it was just Steve Jobs’ stubbornness which resulted in these restrictions), and when they do more people will turn to them.

Why online communities are like nightclubs

Nobody wants them to be overcrowded and the last thing you want to see when you’re in a nightclub is your mother walking in. For this reason, people (especially teenagers) will always turn to new social media platforms such as Snapchat to communicate with one another.

Therefore, Facebook will be forced to acquire new social media to stay ahead of the game. Dr Cole predicts Facebook has the potential to maintain its grip on people around the world but it will have to acquire many popular emerging companies to achieve this.

Amazon vs the world

Dr Cole also spoke about the future of e-commerce, making a bold prediction that Amazon will be the next company to take over the world. He says our reliance on digital technology has had a massive impact on the way we buy things. Ten, even five years ago, we used the internet to buy things such as CDs and books. Now we use it to buy our toothpaste, food and clothes.

He believes Amazon is the company best equipped to undertake same-day shipping, which would result in people rarely having to leave their homes to get the products they want. This would be a huge blow to small and even large retailers, and Amazon has the distribution networks and subscription models to completely dominate this market, he says.

In terms of future digital technologies, he says devices such as Google Glass will probably be the next to take off. He’s not saying we’ll get a chip inserted into our brain, but thinks technology which connects to our bodies via glasses or watches is the next big step.