8.3 A To-be-Continued Story

I've been arguing that the Big Story of historical time is the co-evolution of the person and media as extensions. We have seen how our species has adapted to the dramatic social shifts from hunter-gatherer to agricultural to industrial and now to information society by extending our nervous system to store information, transmit information and now both store and transmit information outside our bodies.

By standing back and taking a long look at the past we are better able to understand our present. We can see the turbulent transition we are undergoing now as we assimilate this fourth generation of media - multimedia to store information and the internet to transmit it. - as the latest (last?) in a process of extending our nervous system.

We can also move more confidently into the future. We can't predict the future. It's an invention and there are so many co-inventors that it is foolhardy to attempt to anticipate them. However, we can reduce the zone of ignorance by making reasonable assumptions about the future by projecting from the past.

The saga of the incredible shrinking chip will continue. Moore's Law will continue to apply for some time. Just this month (June 2001), IBM announced a process of stretching silicon to achieve an increase in speed of 35% [KRANE] and Intel unveiled a super-fast chip which will boost computing power 300 times [CHASE]. In the background there are constant rumblings about nuclear computer and nanotechnology which will have even more profound impact on computing by pushing it down in size to an atomic and sub-atomic level.

The chip is the essence of the computer - everything else could be considered simply as peripheral devices to input, store, and transmit information. As the chip shrinks, so also can the computer. We have seen it shrink from a huge device standing on the reinforced floor to the desktop to the laptop to the palmtop and soon to the wristtop.

As the computer leaps nimbly from desk to lap to palm to wrist, it subtly shifts from a tool which you carry to a tool which you wear. When we think of it as something we wear, we think more about how it fits. The problem of fit will focus not on the chip but on all those clumsy peripherals. There's certainly no place on a wristtop computer for that qwerty keyboard. It will be replaced by voice-activated software. Intel's announcement about their super-fast chip emphasized that it could understand natural human speech. If you are upset by people talking into their cell-phones, then brace yourself for people talking to their wrists. Some day soon, we'll laugh about the days when we wore cumbersome watches on our wrists which provided us with only one piece of information - the time.83

83   Brace yourself too for extensions of the pick-up line - what's the time? We can expect soon to hear what's the weather forecast for this evening? How are my stocks doing? Who won the hockey game last night? What movies are playing at the Paramount? Can my wrist take your wrist to the movie?