Prediction for 2004: Think 2003

Is the new year really any different than the year that just passed?

The short answer is no. The long answer is yes. The longer answer is possible, but not probable, and the medium answer is, well, I think I forgot the question.

Back to the short answer, which if I recall, is NO! The year 2004 will be so much like 2003 that you will actually be able to use the same wall and desk calendars, if you haven't already thrown them away. Do not fret, however, because last year's calendars are today's clearance items at your local store.

From where I sit, it's hard to tell what will change with regard to the Internet in 2004. Actually, I'm sitting in a new office chair, so at least one thing has changed. The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently published its findings on Americans and how they use the Internet, and a fair number of things have changed. One thing the group did not discover, though, is that 75 percent of all online columnists received new office chairs, so I guess mine isn't really that special after all.

After thumbing through the report (can you thumb through a PDF?), I found one item especially intriguing: There are LARGE GROUPS OF PEOPLE, possibly gathering in caves across rural America, who are still not on the Internet. My first thought was, "How could this be possible?" My second thought was, "Do these people use desk calendars and office chairs, and how come no one has combined these two items to create an office chair with a flip-over, headrest calendar, to keep track of those important events?"

Overall, the number of American adults going online increased 47 percent, from about 86 million in March 2000 to 126 million in August 2003. This means that about 63 percent of adult Americans use the Internet, and although the percent of men is a couple points greater than the percent of women (65 to 61), there are actually more women online because there are more women in the United States. No report was available as to how many had new office chairs.

While there has been an obvious growth in Internet connectivity, that growth has slowed somewhat. The greatest divide between users and non-users is money. This makes sense when the cheapest computer and Internet service cost a couple hundred dollars. So even though the rates at which people use email and chat programs have jumped dramatically (there were 102 million email users in December 2002), those numbers still pale in comparison to using standard communication technologies like the phone, TV and radio. There wasn't enough information to determine if carrier pigeons use the Internet these days, either.

For those who are online, the largest expansion came from the commercial venue, as banking and auction sites have grown more than any other activity. At the same time, the search for news - health, religious, sports, current events - has increased by 50 percent or so, setting the stage for making the Internet the largest research facility in the world. How do I know this? Well, I looked it up on the Web, of course. Close to 30 percent are reviewing news sites each day. But sending and receiving email is still the most popular daily activity, with about half of the online community in on it.

So what does this mean for the future of the Internet? Even though the total growth has leveled off, look for more users to continue to try a variety of things online: participate in chats and message boards, buy stuff, start Web journals. And as high-speed access becomes cheaper, especially from the growing number of competitors (cable, phone, utilities), more people will be able to afford online services on a regular basis. A fast connection will no longer be a luxury; it will be a necessity, if Americans want to remain as part of society. Experience with computers, the Internet and technology in general will be practically required for many jobs and will be the central method of all education levels.

But don't expect too much of the change in 2004. The numbers in the PEW study will look fairly similar to those of 2003. So flip your calendar and swivel around in your chair for awhile before embarking on anything tedious. The best thing about 2004 is it will connect us to the rest of the future.

P.S. If you still have all your Christmas cards, and you're getting ready to trash them, DON'T THROW THEM AWAY! Send them to the kids at St. Jude's Ranch for Children, who take the fronts of old Christmas cards and turn them into new ones. The children then earn money by making and selling these cards, so it looks like a really nice program. You can send your cards to the following address:

St. Jude's Ranch for Children

100 St. Jude's Street

Boulder City, NV 89005-1618

Click here for more information