imagining the internet

22 10 2006

my latest time sink has been a site called imagining the internet: a history and forecast.  it has been created and maintained by faculty, staff and students and elon university with the support and funding of the pew charitable trust’s internet and american life project.  Imagining_the_internetthe site is a great interface sitting adopt  of a database formed by the data from three "predict the internet" surveys pew conducted in the 90’s, in 2004, and 2006.

what’s fascinating about how imagining the internet has been put together is that not only does it look forward 150 years in to the future, but it goes back 150 years and looks at predictions around the then just emerging new media of telegraph, telephone, and television.  now i have to admit that i’ve always been a bit jaded when i hear an expert say "in 100 years, humans will……"  but i’ll be a little less so after reading these quotes from the late 1900’s:

on the future of telephones

as reported in the book  "bell" by robert v. bruce, kate field, a british reporter who knew bell, predicted in 1878 that eventually:         

"while two persons, hundreds of miles apart, are talking together, they  will actually see each other."

(she’s talking about video chat two years after bell patented the phone?!?!?!)

at&t chief engineer and electrical review writer john j. carty projected in his "prophets column" in 1891:

"A system of telephony without wires seems one of the interesting possibilities, and the distance on the earth through which it is possible to speak is theoretically limited only by the curvation of the earth."

(he’s talking about cell phones 115 years ago!?!?!?  – although he was abit off on coverage gaps.  curvation of the earth? i wish!!!)

on the furture of television

a report in the indianapolis xtar apcril 9, 1927:

"spectacles may be staged in distant cities and be transmitted for the entertainment of individuals hundreds of miles away.  onversations may be held across the sea and the          parties see each other as clearly as though they were gathered in the same room. distance will be annihilated for sound and sight and the world made immeasurably smaller for the purposes of  communication."

(i checked thomas friedman’s grandfather did not pen this for the star.)

so now I’m thinking that these predictions probably bordered on being considred lunatic by these writers’ temporal peers.   so i looked at the predictions fo the future from today and looked for the lunatic fringe amongst them. 

downloading our thoughts
directly from our minds, people living exclusively in cyberspace,
robots and androids out numbering humans and earning the right to
vote?  those aren’t really all that mindblowing given the current state
of science and then the discourse of science fiction literature.has
accustomed us to where the acceleration of technology might take us. 

then it dawned on me, i was looking in the wrong
direction.  150 years ago, the lunatic fringe understood and believe in
the hyperbolic speeds the technologies were going to generate in
society.  perhaps the lunatic fringe of our age are the ones who
foresee a rapid deacceleration in human history.   try these on for
wacko predictions:

from the british telecom timeline:

  • political correctness creates new dark age
  • whole generation unable to effectively read, write, think, and work

Interestingly, many of the contributed predictions have negative results for humans (losing our ability to think, to be original, being absorbed into the internet, being overthrown by our robots.  But they’re all cyber biochem stuff, no nano technology debacles,   no environmental disasters.

check this incredible site out if you like future vision.  but I’ll warn ya, according this sight, it’s going to a very different world in 150 years!




One response

23 10 2006
Jim Belshaw

Interesting post, Dave. I see what you mean by a sink!

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