Michael Jones spends a lot of his time reading the proverbial technology tea leaves.
As the chief technology advocate for Google Inc., it's up to Mr. Jones to think big and help keep the world's most powerful Internet company on the cutting edge. He helped design Google Earth. When Google's executives need to explain the importance of the Internet or the company's message to a CEO, prime minister or a king, they send Mr. Jones.
So it's no surprise that even as he looks back on a decade that saw the personal computer and the Internet reshape the worlds of business, culture and media, Mr. Jones can already see the winds of change stirring up a new digital reality.
"The mobile phone is for the next decade what the computer has been for the last two or three," Mr. Jones said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. "The whole experience of the Internet is becoming not a desktop computer experience, but a personal experience. It's something you're going to grow up with and you're going to live with all your life and I think every handheld device will have all of those experiences."
The ability to transform media into ones and zeroes and pass it seamlessly across the Internet fundamentally changed how consumers get their news, listen to their music and watch videos. Digital media transformed the PC from a typewriting tool into a media hub, one that provides users with a means of not just consuming media, but also of publishing their own content to previously unreachable audiences.
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Today anyone can be a musician, a video star or a writer, and can distribute their efforts to a global audience.
Indeed, the amount of new data added to the Internet this year was more than 487 billion gigabytes, according to a new study from market research firm IDC. If you consider the average two-hour movie downloaded from a BitTorrent site is approximately 700 megabytes, that's the equivalent of about 696 billion copies of The Dark Knight being added to the Internet in 2008.
And by 2012, the study says the amount of new data added to the Internet will be five times that much.
"It's pretty clear that the Internet is something special," Mr. Jones said. "The Internet is sort of like the connective tissue of the global mind. It brings the thoughts of everybody around the world into your home and to your person just because you want to learn."
Although it has been 10 years since the birth of Napster - the music sharing software that kick-started mainstream digital media consumption - many industries have yet to come to grips with the digital reality. They are struggling to make money and to adapt old world business models to the new world of the Internet.
Physical media formats are under threat. Books, CDs, DVDs and newspapers all have digital competitors that offer the same content without taking up shelf or closet space. How media companies produce and deliver content that once came in a physical format, while still generating revenue, will separate the winners from the losers in the coming decade.
CDs are fighting a losing battle against iTunes and piracy. Although DVDs are tougher to copy than CDs, it's only a matter of time before on-demand and over-the-Internet services become the primary mode of home video viewing. Amazon.com's Kindle book readers could be the beginning of the end of the publishing world and newspapers are finding it harder and harder to convince subscribers to keep paying for a physical product containing information that is freely available online.
A look at the future of digital media raises two fundamental questions: how are consumers going to get their content, and who is going to pay for it?
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