Futures Essays: The Future of Communications

Author’s Note: I am so glad I have a strong background in science fiction. It is the only way I could explain some of the eerie and uncanny “prophetic” statements I made in this paper I wrote 20+ years ago. Well, not the only way… but the only way for who I was at that time…

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Prior to this class session, I had thought very little about the future of communications. I had seen the ATT&T commercials about a person ordering concert tickets by credit card from a video phone booth, a doctor putting a credit card in a slot and having access to all of the medical records of a woman in labor, and the woman on a business trip who called home and saw her infant and husband while they were seeing her during her phone conversation. (Yes, I see the blasé looks on the faces of those under 20, but for my generation, it was all so futuristic and inspiring.) I had also seen the commercials for an interactive video game on compact disc. However, I had never really thought about the relationship among these things. After the seminar session, I began to see that everything is becoming related to everything else by dependence on similar technology; this interdependent relationship is called convergence.

Convergence is the state in which there will be affordable, universal two-way service which is broadband and which allows access to all kinds of products of the communication industries on a single, large cable. An example of convergence which could occur in the future (the future is now) is a person at home in Denver using a computer to listen to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on a classical radio station from Philadelphia as he wakes up in the morning; later, he uses his home computer to send a work report to his office in New York; in the afternoon, he calls his sister in Australia and his mother in India both at the same time; and at night, he watches Gone with the Wind before going to bed.

Convergence is already happening in a limited basis. I can use my computer to listen to a CD while reading electronic mails containing stories from my best friend from high school in Maryland and communicating over a bulleting board system with acquaintances in England or Jamaica. Although the technology in color computer screens is not good enough to provide the same quality as a projector and screen, I have already seen simulated film-like programs that have an almost life-like quality. On a visit to the National Aeronautics and Space Museum in Washington, DC, I was fascinated by one of the displays involving a simulation of a trip to another planet. A video is played and at various crucial points, a series of options is offered on the screen. The individual involved with the interaction puts his finger on the box next to the preferred option. The choices I made sent me on a difficult mission to an unexplored planet; my experience was different from the person before me who made different choices.

From my own experiences, I can see that the technology is in place to achieve most of the examples in the AT&T commercial. To order tickets with a credit card from a video phone booth would combing the use of the interactive computer program and the technology already in place by which stores scan credit cards to check the credit limit and authenticity of the card. (Yeah, I got one of my highest grades in the course on this paper, and I never addressed the video phone booth.) The medical card would be achieved with the combination of coding a magnetic strip on the card and identifying the section of a computer network storing the medical data through a code on the magnetic strip.

Video phones are, however, a little further into the future. (Wait. Here’s where I put that information.) Currently, there are great difficulties in transferring pictures to impulses that would be translated into images that most people would accept as recognizable. Also, current wires could not deal with light impulses. The translation of light to electronic impulses would cause not only a great deal of lag time, but also a bottle-neck at both the transmitting and receiving ends. (I can’t believe I had this vocabulary back then. Maybe I was too close to a required physics class?)

The biggest concern I have with the idea of convergence is that is sets up the potential for the invasion of my privacy. A computer hacker with the right knowledge could stalk me without my knowledge. He would know my choice in music, films, entertainment; he would know how much money I earned and spent; and he would know the people with whom I communicated on a regular basis. (Yeah, I am describing the current days in a freaky way.) He could even know my most intimate thoughts if I were communicating them with an acquaintance. These kinds of things are really my personal choice and no one’s business but mine. I would not be very comfortable with that possibility. I am not even sure strong government regulations would ease my discomfort because the only way foul play could be discovered would be through the use of foul play. If I do not wish for a complete stranger to monitor me, then I most certainly do not wish for a government official to monitor me in order to determine whether there is a complete stranger monitoring me. (NSA, CIA, TSA, DHS–welcome to the future because the future is now, and people still lose their identities to complete strangers.) I do not feel there is an easy solution to this problem.

I find it fascinating that I am using technology that even when I was very young was considered futuristic, and I look forward to the development of even greater technology. (Yes, yes, you do, you Borg collective candidate.)

I don’t even want to go here, with hackers and spammers and identity thieves. As I age, I find although technology evolves, newer isn’t always better.

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