Tony Dobrowolski: Changing the world
When I wrote for my college newspaper more than 30 years ago, we used typewriters to produce our copy. We would then give the finished product to the one person who had access to our lone computer, (I think we may have called it a word processor back then).
He would type our stories into our computer system, which is how we prepared them for production on the pages.
That all seems like ancient history now, a task that the Greeks and Romans might have performed, thanks to the advent of the World Wide Web that accelerated the formation of our digital universe.
It was 20 years ago in 1994 that use of the World Wide Web began to escalate. The web had already been around for a couple of years, and the Internet had existed even longer. But 1994 is the year that the world of communications as we know it really began to change.
According to a study cited in The Boston Globe, the number of websites went from 623 at the start of 1994 to more than 10,000 by the end.
The web not only changed the way we communicate, it also changed the way we do business.
Think of all the ways that businesses both large and small manage their affairs today. Where would the business world be without email, websites, and the ability to sell products online.
Tablets, mobile phones, high definition 3D television ... All fantasies 20 years ago.
For someone like me whose formative years occurred long before the dawn of the digital age, the transformation has been incredible. It reminds me of those original Star Trek episodes where the crew of the Starship Enterprise used all kinds of incredible gadgets -- remember the handheld device that Dr. McCoy used to wave over a patient to diagnose medical conditions? They were products of the writers' fervent imaginations as they attempted to look into the future. They weren't always right -- thankfully that nuclear war in the 1990s that the characters often alluded to never happened. But they were close.
Those handheld communication devices that the characters used to communicate with each other when separated from each other on some distant planet? They could easily be cellphones. The way the computers on the ship's bridge acted almost instantaneously when officers punched in coordinates -- a forerunner for laptops and high speed Internet.
We can't beam our coordinates from one place to another, but we can video chat. We also have no cloaking device, which always came in handy when the crew was trying to hide the Enterprise from Klingon warships. But we can block information that we don't want to receive on our computer systems; and place limits on the kinds of programs that we receive on our television sets.
These ongoing technological achievements have made our world smaller and more immediate. In business, they've created fields that no one had
ever thought of before. High speed computers and the web have made it possible for businesses to conduct their affairs almost simultaneously around the world. With technology, the international market is open to everyone. In Massachusetts, one of our fastest growing industries, biotechnology, would be nowhere near the growth engine it has become without all of the state-of-the-art procedures and devices that were made possible by technology.
There have been downsides to this technological explosion. Email has made the art of letter writing almost obsolete. We don't communicate face-to-face as much as we did before, because we don't have to. We have instant access to everything all the time, 24/7.
The rise of social media has made it possible for everyone to express their opinion on anything whenever they like, which unfortunately has often made it difficult to distinguish fact from opinion
Given the immediacy today's world demands, it's become harder to bring thoughtful in-depth analysis to almost anything any more. Sound bites and Tweets are slowly becoming the new currency. These devices work well when done right, but dumb down the discourse for everyone when emphasized too much.
I often wonder if young people understand this when they scroll absentmindedly through their mobile phones looking for the latest alert or update.
That's the price we pay for living in a technological society. What we need now is balance.
It's hard to believe that I ever used a typewriter.
Tony Dobrowolski is the business editor of The Berkshire Eagle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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