The New Era Of Communications

I got this email today:

We are in panama we just went thru the locks. all is well we are having a great time mom and dad

What do we have here? Well, certainly, for his next birthday I’m buying my dad punctuation marks and capital letters! More than that, a check of the originating IP address shows he sent this from on-board ship.

My mom and dad are cruising, but the Internet is there with them.

I remember when Helaine and I took a cruise many years ago. We stopped in Puerto Rico and rushed to a pay phone to check in with everyone back home. Same thing in St. Thomas (in fact, I can still picture the pay phones to the left of the main door of the St. Thomas Post Office).

It wasn’t that there weren’t phones on the ship, but it was ridiculously expensive.

Yesterday, my friend Peter left for three weeks on Maui. I spoke to him as he went to the airport. I spoke to him in San Francisco, waiting for a delayed flight. I spoke to him once he got to his Maui hotel. Each time I dialed the same South Jersey cellphone number.

Each of my calls were included in my cell plan with no additional charge… in fact, with no meter even clicking off the minutes.

Calling Hawaii, like making a call from a cruise ship, used to be expensive. No more.

I also played around a little, calling my friend Bob in Austin, TX using Skype. The quality was great, using my laptop on the sofa in the family room and a cheap headset. Of course the call was totally free.

This ability to communicate, whether by computer or phone or a combination of the two is amazing – something we in the 21st century share with no other moment in history. It is, unfortunately, limited to the wealthy.

A little clarification. In this case wealthy applies to the vast majority of people in the United States and many more around the world, who are included in a global middle class. They are only wealthy in contrast to those who are dirt poor – and there are many who fit that category.

Now, maybe there is hope for them to benefit from this communications and knowledge explosion, fueled by computing.

I saw Nicholas Negroponte with Charlie Rose on PBS. Negroponte heads MIT’s Media Lab, a communication and information think tank

In its first decade, much of the Laboratory’s activity centered around abstracting electronic content from its traditional physical representations, helping to create now-familiar areas such as digital video and multimedia. The success of this agenda is now leading to a growing focus on how electronic information overlaps with the everyday physical world. The Laboratory pioneered collaboration between academia and industry, and provides a unique environment to explore basic research and applications, without regard to traditional divisions among disciplines.

That’s some of the least explanatory prose ever written by otherwise educated people.

Negroponte was on to talk about a project I’ve been following for a while – a $100 laptop, to be produced in bulk and distributed for free to students around the world.

If this is the first you’re hearing about this project, please go to their site and read more. It’s really an amazing undertaking.

The MIT Media Lab has launched a new research initiative to develop a $100 laptop

One Response to “The New Era Of Communications”

  1. Chris Del Sole says:

    I’ve been following the $100 laptop story for a few months now; I agree that it’s a great idea. It seems like the tech world is split on the project’s potential, however. Slate had a piece a couple weeks ago that basically said the project will never get off the ground. How accurate the piece is, however, I don’t know.

    Here’s the link if you’re interested: http://www.slate.com/id/2131201/

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