I had one of those blogosphere epiphanies last night, where different people opining about different stuff all came together for me. It started with the new report I have to read from Bill Buxton's Microsoft research group about what computing interfaces will be like in 2020.
Add recent posts from Oz about eye tracking replacing mice, combined with other notes about the decline in personal computing, and even some near sci-fi news about operating computers with brainwaves, and the trend crystallizes.
Hey, take a good look at your computer, and compare it to machines you used ten years ago. CRT monitors are mostly gone. Disk drives and ports have changed, shrank, and started to disappear in favor of wireless. The oldest parts of your PC are the forty-five year old mouse and of course the two-hundred year old keyboard. These venerable peripherals are on the way out now.
When I entered the workforce, people were beginning to accept as inevitable that everyone would change jobs many times in their lifetimes. I think the next great trend will be people in technology changing careers completely, several times in a lifetime. If within twenty years everyone is communicating with everyday devices by touch, eye tracking, or brainwaves, the concept of an interface will be radically different. Usability as we know it today could become obsolete.
Even within ten years, as people use next-gen iPhones and Google Android devices to accomplish everything they once had to sit and type to do, usability professionals can expect many of their skills to become dated.
We can be reasonably confident that cognitive psychology will remain relevant, at least, since ten, twenty, or a hundred years are not enough to evolve us into bigger brains. But think again -- with chips in our brains enhancing working memory, grabbing any needed information instantly from a ubiquitous Net, and performing complex calculations trivially, many of the tasks we need a computer interface for today will become easy as thought. Humans will not have the same cognitive limitations we're used to working within.
I used to think all this stuff was either science fiction, or maybe for future generations to worry about. But I think everything in this post will be happening in my lifetime. And I wonder what I'll be doing for work as a result. Check out those links and let me know what you think.