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Tracey E.Schelmetic

[November 13, 2002]

Dot Commentary

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Managing Editor, CUSTOMER INTER@CTION Solutions


Semaphore Flags, Aldis Lamps, Faxing And Other Stone-Age Technologies

This morning, before he hurriedly went into a meeting, my colleague asked me to do him a favor and fax something for him.

"FAX something? Are you kidding? Why don't I just send a Marconi wire?" How about smoke signals? Cuneiform tablets carried by donkey? A heraldic messenger wearing a rampant lion on his chest, bearing a scroll sealed with wax?

Now, it's not like I've never worked in the age of faxin my very first job, telexes were still the order of the day. During the course of a high school-era summer job at the company my Dad worked for, my teenage self would frequently trot down to the mysterious telex room, written form in hand to give to the fluffy, blue-haired women who invariably worked in telex roomsdoing whatever it was one had to do to send a telex. The rise of the fax machine forced the little blue-haired telex ladies into well-deserved retirements, and suddenly, EVERYONE could communicate with the outside world without having to use the telephone or postal mail. "Fax it to me" became a cute catch-phrase that showed you were hipyou can still hear it in movies from the mid-1980s.

I approached the fax machine gingerly (it's been a long time since I'd done this), dropped the dead tree byproducts into the fax machine and dialed the numbers, finally pushing the big green "send" button. As I write this, it's still trying to go through, periodically giving me a "dialed number busy" message every few minutes.

I'm still trying to recover from paper poisoning.

This experience made me start to thinkexactly how many other machines, technologies and processes has the Internet relegated to Victrola status?

Obviously, we all have different preferred processes when it comes to conducting day-to-day business and personal life. I'm the kind of girl who puts her grocery list on her PDA and sends e-mails from her work address to her home address to remind herself about doctor's appointments, bills to pay, etc. Not everyone is like meI know there are people out there who still regularly use "pho-to-cop-i-ers," printers and those ink-bearing ball-pointed sticks with protective caps.

Next on my list of relics of the past come newspapers and weekly news magazines. At this point, the only useful thing I can think of to do with newspaper is train a puppy or kindle a fire. Why would I bother spending money on newspapers when I can read everything from the Kathmandu Post to the Namibia Economist online? ThoughI realize that for some people, the morning or Sunday paper is a calming ritual they wouldn't give up for the world. I'm of the opinion that e-books will never fully replace paper books, as e-books, convenient as they are, are soulless inventions that excise a great deal of the magic from reading.

Photography is another area that will ultimately be trounced by digital processes and the Internet. There will always be professionals, artists and hobbyists who will never give up the traditional photographic processbut for the rest of us, the baby-picture snappers, the vacation photographers, the here's-my-friend-with-a-lampshade-on-his-head picture-takers, digital is rapidly overtaking film. It's fast, it's easy, you don't have to pay for the photos that didn't turn out well, you never have to buy film, and you can share your pictures with your friend in Azerbaijan as fast as you can upload them.

We all know that video has had its daya few weeks ago, I was invited to my parents' house for turkey sandwiches and a viewing party of old 8 mm family films. After my father remembered how to thread the dusty projector, we watched films of my extended family, including footage of myself, my brother and my cousins as ankle-biters. I pointed out to my Dad that the thirty-mumble-year-old film was beginning to fade and he really ought to get them burned onto DVD. We discussed the fact that a couple of years ago, the optimal course of action would have been having them transferred onto VHS. "What's next?" asked my Dad. "If I get them burned onto DVD, won't another medium come along and replace that?"

"There won't be another medium," I replied. "Your next step is to digitize them and store them on your personal family Web server." (Which means, of course, that he wouldn't have to wait until someone came over to the house to embarrass me with babyhood bath-time gurgle footagehe could gleefully share it with friends and relatives all across the planet. Something to think about when you encourage relatives to go digital with all that old family film.)

Additionally, in light of Election Day last week, voting is another process that's been mentioned in the same sentence with the word "Internet." This is a concept that I expect will move slower than other potential applications, security issues being paramount. As we're all beginning to realize, there is no such thing as a hack-proof system, and if we thought recounts of hanging, dangling, spinning and dancing chads were painful, imagine what it would be like to have to farm through a database of 150 million or so registered votes, recounting and verifying their accuracy.

In other areas, bill paying, budgeting, car registration renewing, banking, shopping, working, researching, making "phone" calls via VoIP, radio-listening, map-reading and navigation, vacation planning, travel booking, music and movie downloading, money-raising, gambling, participating in support groups, house-hunting, role-playing gaming, gossiping, conferencing, dating, schooling and receiving medical treatment are just a few of the areas that are feeling the increasing effects of the Internet. Pretty soon, you'll be able to leave the house only for fun things.

On the flip side, the negative implications are rising as well: spamming, harassing and stalking, problematic gambling, hate group recruitment and proliferation, identity theft, money scamming, child pornography and anonymous rumor-mongering are activities that have begun to thrive even more due to the world's easy access to the rest of the world via the Internet. The world has always had lowlifesit's just that now, they've become digital lowlifes.

Back to that fax, it didn't go through in the end. Anyone know where I can find a reliable carrier pigeon?

The author, who doesn't really have any friends in Azerbaijan, can be reached at tschelmetic@tmcnet.com.


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