Affiliated with the University of California's systemwide
Humanities Research Institute
The MacArthur Foundation
Do you remember the days before the Web? I do. I'm talking about the period just prior to 1995. We would converse on a one-to-one basis using telephones (which were almost always tethered because there were also very few mobile phones before 1990, and they were the size of a house brick). We sent typed paper memos to each other, via the external postage or internal mail services, and we arranged face to face meetings that were frequent, tedious and time consuming. That was the way we got things done in the 1980s, and for the early part of the 1990s too. And then the technology innovations rapidly began to appear, one after another.
If someone from the 1980s was suddenly transported to today's world, what a difference they would see! Communication has been transformed beyond recognition. e-Mail is already embedded into the culture of most organisations, and is used by everyone without much thought. Mobile phones are also common place, giving us the ability to connect with anyone, just about anywhere. What's more, many people stare down at their mobiles, rather than holding them to their ear. This means that texting too, has become normal practice, as has our use of touch screens, social media and search engines. A lot has changed in less than two decades.
My wife and I were having a conversation with one of our daughters last night, via Skype, on an iPhone. We could see and hear each other perfectly, with no degradation of audio or video. It was as clear as watching the television, but it was there, in the palm of our hands, and we were mobile. For most of us, full motion video conferencing on a small touch screen device was science fiction 10 years ago. It's amazing to me how much we already take for granted, but probably the thing we take for granted the most, is our ability to have multiple, instantaneous and synchronous global conversations.
Consider how easy it is to have simultaneous conversations with several other people using e-mail, Twitter or Facebook. Think how easy it is to video conference using Google Hangouts or Skype.