Published on
21 September 2019

Letters and Post-it notes will be replaced by body implants and hologram technology as ways people communicate in the future, a new online survey for Barnardo’s reveals.

Polling firm YouGov asked 3,262 children and adults across Britain how they used to communicate, how they do now and how they think young people will talk to each other in 30 years’ time. 

The survey coincides with 30 years since the launch of the world wide web and a new Barnardo’s report ‘Generation Digital’ which urges the Government to introduce new legislation to help protect children online now and in the future.

With technology evolving so rapidly, just 13 per cent of 8-18 year-olds and 9 per cent of adults think young people will write messages to each other in 2049.

Holograms were chosen by 28 per cent of adults and 39 per cent of young people as a form of communication in the future, while body and brain implants were picked by 31 per cent of young people and 22 per cent of adults. One in five adults (20 per cent) thought a new language like emojis would be used as did a quarter (25 per cent) of young people.

Popular communication tools of the future were wearables like smart watches and augmented reality glasses (52 per cent of adults and 60 per cent of young people online).

Interestingly, more than half (56 per cent) of young people think spending too much time online and not enough time talking to people face to face in the future is a risk to people their age online.

The survey also revealed strong concerns about the internet. More than four in five adults (83 per cent) feel that being groomed or exploited online and cyberbullied is a risk for young people online. 

When it comes to using the internet to help them keep safe, most adults and children check it for severe weather (65 per cent of adults and 40 per cent young people), map apps to avoid getting lost (58 per cent adults and 39 per cent young people) and bus and train timetables to avoid waiting alone for long (39 per cent adults and 27 per cent young people). 

Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan said: 

“In the last 30 years the way children and adults communicate has changed beyond recognition, so it’s no surprise that in the next 30 years we are headed towards the stuff of science fiction.

“The internet and new technologies have transformed how young people learn, play and communicate – but it’s also created new risks to children’s safety and wellbeing.

“Our laws and systems must keep pace with technological change so we can protect children effectively on and offline.

“This requires urgent changes today – like regulating the internet and giving children the skills to stay safe – but also a longer-term commitment from Government, charities, industry, and other partners, to put children first in an ever-changing digital world.”

Barnardo’s President Natasha Kaplinsky said:

“When I look back at my childhood it seems like a whole different world from the one my children are growing up in today.

“The internet has brought so many exciting opportunities, but it also has its risks.

“I’m sure I’m not the only parent who struggles to keep up with each new app – but to our children it’s second nature.

“That’s why it is so important to talk to our children about what they’re doing online and to make sure they have the confidence to ask for help when they need it.”

Barnardo’s is urging the Government to help protect children online by introducing new regulations without delay so tech companies have a duty to keep children safe. 

It also wants the Government to:

• Ensure schools and alternative education provision settings have the necessary resources and expertise to deliver high quality, effective lessons on online safety.

• Ensure families in every community can access advice and support if they are concerned about their children’s safety or wellbeing on or offline. (For example through a Family Hub)

• Take children’s views and experiences into account when working with schools to formulate policies and practices which affect their access to, digital technologies and the internet. 

Sidebar 1

Quotes from young people from the Generation Digital report:

“I think it will be hard for people to communicate in real life. If adults are staring at a screen then children won’t copy [their interactions]. We won’t be able to communicate face to face anymore.” 

“You wouldn’t let your nine year old go to an event where you have to be sixteen to go to by themselves, and it’s just like the internet - if you’ve got to be [a certain age], to join something [online] then you should be that age when you join.”

Sidebar 2

Barnardo’s spoke to a panel of tech experts to ask what they thought the future of communication will look like. Here’s what they said:

Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC Technology Correspondent, said:

“There will be many more vivid ways of communicating than there are now. And almost everything will be connected to the internet – not just devices but even things like our clothing. We may have deep brain implants that will allow us to communicate by thinking. The potential to send our thoughts to each other is a rather frightening prospect.  

“It might become normal for people to use connected contact lenses where people will see messages right in front of their eyeballs and may be able to respond in some way.

“Voice recognition will become far more commonplace instead of typing – and we may also have screens that we simply just cast our eyes over to create messages.

“As each new and exciting development comes along we will need to be ready to protect children from potential risks, trying to scope out the dangers in good time, rather than be caught unawares as has happened with the rise of social media.”

Dr Ian Pearson, Futurologist, said:

 “By 2050 we’ll be communicating through a form of telepathy from thought recognition technology. I might have electronic jewellery which can detect my thoughts and that may be able to communicate with someone else’s earpiece and relay my thoughts to them.

 “Even in just ten years I think simple dictation-writing devices will appear – we think of certain words and a device will record the words we are thinking of and we’ll then be able to send that electronically to other people.

 “AI will be able to detect our emotions from reading our mannerisms, facial expression and blood flow so people will be able to communicate their feelings and emotions as well and their thoughts. This does have the potential for vulnerable people to have secondary carers in the form of AI.

 “We may have electronic devices so small they could be injected into you and navigate to your brain where they could hook up to synapses and relay information from the brain to external electronics, therefore communicating telepathically and increasing your knowledge and IQ.

 “There are obvious risks in terms of your thoughts and emotions being hooked up to the internet which could affect job seeking and job security with your attitudes, views and political leanings being accessible.”

Will Guyatt, Tech Correspondent for LBC Radio, said:

 “I’m pretty sure that in 30 years time we will be talking to holograms of friends and colleagues. These will appear from projectors, headsets or small devices and appear in front of us in our rooms.

“We might have contact lenses connected to the internet which will allow people to access online information in front of their own eyes – a bit like the Terminator. People will be able to experience events without actually being there, by using a device that will lay images over your traditional vision. 

 “Another prediction is based on research that shows people are using fewer words in digital communication, but more emojis. We could see the development of an entirely new universal language based on symbols.”

Sidebar 4

Barnado’s six top tips for parents to help keep their children safe online

1. Be as interested in your child’s digital life as you are in their school life.

It will also help you to understand the online platforms they’re engaged with, but more importantly, these conversations will build trust, meaning your child is more likely to come to you if they ever find themselves in a difficult situation online.

2. Discuss what healthy and unhealthy online behaviour looks like.

Dangers can come not only from befriending strangers online, but from interactions with peers, including friends of friends. Rather than giving messages about stranger danger, it's more effective to talk about what healthy and unhealthy online behaviour looks like. This, dependent on age, might include discussions around sexting, trolling, sharing personal information.

3. Encourage your child to use age-appropriate sites.

Review the safety features of each site and talk to your child about age guidelines and why they exist. This will help them identify safer and more appropriate online spaces.

4. Enable your child to have digital access in the same physical space as you.

Being in the same room as your child when they are online not only helps you know what they are accessing, it enables you to pick up on non-verbal clues as to whether their online life is a happy and safe one. 

5. Discuss how information can be shared online and agree privacy settings.

Talk to your child about what information they share online and who they would want to see this. Set your child’s privacy controls accordingly – then check them regularly as some sites automatically revert privacy settings to a lower level after releasing an update.

6. Keep an open dialogue

As a parent or carer, the most important way you can help is by maintaining an open dialogue with your child about their online activity, and by being there to help them if they are targeted or get into difficulty.