June 14, 2011

New York Times

Here is a look at the future from 29 years ago today.

In a June 14, 1982 story called, “Study Says Technology Could
Transform Society”
the New York Times described a report from the
National Science Foundation:

A report commissioned by the National Science Foundation and made public today speculates that by the end of this century electronic information technology will have transformed American home, business, manufacturing, school, family and political life.

The report suggests that one-way and two-way home information systems, called teletext and videotex, will penetrate deeply into daily life, with an effect on society as profound as those of the automobile and commercial television earlier in this century.

It conjured a vision, at once appealing and threatening, of a style of life defined and controlled by videotex terminals throughout the house.

In his New York Times story, Robert Reinhold went on to present other findings from the report:

Privacy and control

The report warned that the new technology would raise difficult issues of privacy and control that will have to be addressed soon to ‘maximize its benefits and minimize its threats to society.’

Emerging online industry

The study focused on the emerging videotex industry, formed by the marriage of two older technologies, communications and computing. It estimated that 40 percent of American households will have two-way videotex service by the end of the century. By comparison, it took television 16 years to penetrate 90 percent of households from the time commercial service was begun.


The ‘key driving force’ controlling the speed of videotex
penetration, the report said, is the extent to which advertisers can be persuaded to use it, reducing the cost of the service to subscribers.

Tradeoffs in control

But for all the potential benefits the new technology may bring, the report said, there will be unpleasant ‘trade offs’ in ‘control.’

‘Videotex systems create opportunities for individuals to exercise much greater choice over the information available to them,’ the researchers wrote. ‘Individuals may be able to use videotex systems to create their own newspapers, design their own curricula, compile their own consumer guides.

‘On the other hand, because of the complexity and sophistication of these systems, they create new dangers of manipulation or social engineering, either for political or economic gain. Similarly, at the same time that these systems will bring a greatly increased flow of information and services into the home, they will also carry a stream of information out of the home about the preferences and behavior of its occupants.’

Other predictions

Widespread penetration of the technology, it said, would mean, among other things, these developments:

— The home will double as a place of employment, with men and women conducting much of their work at the computer terminal. This will affect both the architecture and location of the home. It will also blur the distinction between places of residence and places of business, with uncertain effects on zoning, travel patterns and neighborhoods.

— Home-based shopping will permit consumers to control manufacturing directly, ordering exactly what they need for ‘production on demand.’

— There will be a shift away from conventional workplace and school socialization. Friends, peer groups and alliances will be determined electronically, creating classes of people based on interests and skills rather than age and social class.

Videotext and teletext never lived up to the potential described in this 1982 New York Times story. Videotext failed in the United States due to expensive technology and an audience that wasn’t quite ready for online news and services.

Viewtron, one of the most ambitious U.S. videotext projects, was
launched in 1983 by Knight-Ridder and AT&T. Times Mirror created
another major system called Gateway in 1984. Both programs ended in

However, videotex served as an important technological transition to dial-up BBS sites, USENET User groups, and online computer services such as the WELL, Compuserve, Prodigy, and AOL.

The Web was introduced in the early 1990s and during the past two decades has slowly made the New York Times’ predictions of 1982 come true.Also AirKnife are rising in the technology market so keep in eye on that.

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