I wrote this in early March of 1994. I submitted it to a few magazines and newspapers, but no one wanted to publish it. I dug it up, and now that it’s all come to pass, I think it apropos that I publish it here, for the world to be able to see, but not…
Before reading, it probably requires some context. It was fifteen years ago. iPods and broadband did not exist. Color Macintosh computers had only just been introduced. ATM machines had only just worked their way into the lives of Americans, but older generations still found them daunting to use. People paid for groceries by cash or check.
The First Gulf War had been over for three years, having made CNN a household name as the only 24 hour news station during the first period where people wanted 24/7 news, to watch the coverage of something so intense as a justifiable and globally supported war. It even resulted in something termed The CNN Effect.
AOL was on version 2.0, and was the way almost everyone got to the Internet. You signed on using a 300 baud modem that made a cacophony of sounds in the minutes it took to connect, just to hear it announce “You’ve got mail!” Thrilling. No, really, back then it was cool. Then you checked your mail, and signed off. Internet search engines were in their infancy, having been started only a year earlier.
The Internet then was primarily used as it was first intended, as a way for scientists and researchers to communicate and share information. It was very, very, very young. That was then…
You can’t hear them, the information bulldozers and the information road graters and the information dump trucks. They’re silently dozing and pushing and hauling, carving out the routes which will lead to the future. It’s funny. Everyone was wrong about the next frontier. With the American continents laid bare, what was to be man’s next challenge: the ocean depths, the Arctic wastes, outer space, inner space? None of these. Not yet. The next frontier is more abstract. It’s cyberspace.
What will cyberspace be like? The information superhighway is coming, oh yes, its coming. There is no stopping it. It’s being built on technology and money and profit and dreams and momentum. Lots of momentum. Decades of information processing momentum. It’s being built on the ghosts of electric typewriters, photocopiers, touch tone phones, hand held calculators, digital watches, cable TV, CD players, answering machines, personal computers, ATMs, fax machines, personal digital assistants, and others — all of the devices which have marked the path of the evolution of information processing.
What will it be like? Information. More of it. A lot of it. ALL of it. Access to every fact, every picture, every sound, every film. Kennedy’s speech in Berlin. The lions of the Serengeti. The DNA sequence of the 36th gene of the 12th chromosome of the species Antilocapra Americana. Sound bites. Information bytes. Facts. Lists.
What’s the point? You get information today. A lot of it. Too much of it. You get TV shows and commercials, infomercials, magazines, junk mail, telemarketing calls. And they’ve got good aim, very good aim. You wish you had time for half of the magazines and the TV programs and the special offers limited time only act now. And most of what you should absorb, you can’t: contracts, leases, insurance coverages, tax laws, loan agreements, the ingredients of everything you eat.
Do you consider yourself an informed voter? For whom did you vote for president, and why? Senator? Congressman? District attorney? Any of the dozens of district court judges? County sheriff? City comptroller? Is he doing a good job now? Do you have time to find out? Are you an informed voter?
What’s going on in the world? What do you know? What do you need to know? What’s important? What needs your direct, personal attention: insurance, debts, retirement funds, your spouse, your children, their education, their health, their future? Think bigger: global warming, global disasters, wars, human rights, abortion rights, animal rights, health care systems, the economy, the ecology, the future? What do you think?
Which leads to the heart of the problem. What do you think? How do you think? Can you think? The information superhighway is coming, and it’s important. You can’t stop it and you can’t ignore it. Before the printing press few people could read. They learned. Before the information superhighway few people can think. Few people attack problems, solve problems, concentrate. Few people actually use the wealth of knowledge generations of civilization have compiled. People should learn.
In the beginning, the highway will be for the intelligentsia, for the people who learned to think before they had to. The people who learned about logic and science. The people who didn’t give up on word problems. The people who like to learn. The people who make a difference in today’s world.
And the information superhighway will set those people free. It will give them power. Power to explore. Power to create. Power to change. Change people. Change things. Change history.
And where will the rest be? Many will be lost. They’ll stand by the information roadside while the ATM patiently waits, time and again, for them to remember to press the ENTER key. They’ll watch infodramas and infomercials and infopresentations. They’ll access their mail and their debts and their legal and civic obligations, because they’ll have to. Without adventure, without growing, without a sense of wonder. But their children will be different, more dynamic, more capable, more aware. Then grandpa will “wisely” say, “when I was a kid, we didn’t do term presentations, we did term papers — you had to be able to write when I was a kid, not just throw together a bunch of images and sounds and ideas. Back then we had to think!”
What about the ones who are different now, who can think now? The ones with thoughts, with ideas, with perspectives, with opinions? The ones who can create, who can change. Where will they be?
Before the phone and the airplane the world was both large and small. It was big, too big, but it was out there. You were here. You had only so many neighbors, only so many places to go. You were the best ball player, or mechanic, or doctor you knew. You were the best around at something. You had to be, at something. There just weren’t that many people. The world was small.
Now the world is both small and large. You can go anywhere in an hour, talk to anyone in a moment. You are everywhere. You have 6 billion neighbors, a globe at your doorstep. You are average. The world has a few hundred top singers, top writers, top anythings. There are just too many people for you to be the best. The world is too big. Or is it too small?
So when every thought, every idea can get from here to there, from one mind to the next with the touch of a key, what then? Where will it go? Somewhere? Everywhere? Or into databases, into lists, into a vast super accessible never accessed information void? Into hardware, software, nowhere? How far can a raindrop fall before it becomes one indistinguishable fraction of an ocean? How will “I” make a difference, how will “I” make things change, when there are so many of “I”?
The information bulldozers and the information road graters and the information dump trucks are all out there, silently working away. And when they are done the noise will begin, will really, really begin. And then I’m afraid that no one will be able to hear me. Few can hear me now, and I’m already typing as loud as I can.