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Extension Technology and
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University of Missouri-Columbia   Extension Technology and Computer Services—ETCS

December 1999
 Vol. 16, No. 10

A Technology Newsletter for Extension Specialists



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What Will the Next Century Bring?
by Bill McFarland

This is the last Inner Circuits of the 90's, the last of the 20th Century, and the last of this millennium. My Dad (86 years young) helps me comprehend the century, but I don't even try to comprehend the millennium. Of course he has seen much change in Pettis County during the 20th Century. This century started with a threat of the automobile and telephone, but not even a hint of radio, TV, computers, airplanes, space ships, or supermarkets, not even the 40 hour week. Information Technology was the telephone.

The telephone was the beginning of personal technology. The first commercial phone network went online before 1900, but unlike other inventions such as electric lights and indoor plumbing, the telephone did more than merely improve on some existing technology. It came out of nowhere to fill a need that no one even knew they had until the telephone arrived. Other industrial networks like the telegraph and railroad connected one community with another, but the telephone connected individuals. Dad tells me how excited they were when they got their first phone, and how they would sit around a primitive radio set trying to listen to Fibber McGee and Molly.

The phone connected him to other phone users, first through "Central", then the rotary dial - an upgrade that allowed him to connect to any other user on his own, if he knew the number. The radio connected him to a few who were broadcasting what they hoped he wanted to hear, if he knew the frequency and was in range. As the century moved on, the phone became a push button device, sometimes without wires. The radio included images (TV) and for many comes into the house on wires. Both technologies give Dad a source of information. In the last two years of this century, Dad decided that he needed to be able to store some of this information for use later, so I installed a phone answering machine, and a VCR. Programming the VCR to record remains a challenge. But a bigger challenge is lurking and calling out from these familiar technologies. Dad puts it like this: "What in the world is this dot com stuff that is all over the TV? Everybody seems to have a www.something."

Well Dad, it is just the beginning of what might replace your favorite technologies, and storing its information in a manner so that you will be able to replay it as you wish. It was first called the Internet, but now most refer to it as the Web, short for the World Wide Web (WWW). The catch is how do you get it in your house, and what can you pick up on it when you get it? Then can you learn to use it, and how disadvantaged will you be if you don't use it? Will the next century soon see this web thing replace the phones and the TV, filling a need that you don't even know you have, yet?



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