Two wars are being fought for control of the world's information highway - one for the infrastructure, the other for what is piped along it. Victor Keegan considers whether these corporate battles willcreate giant monopolies or empower the individual (or both)by Victor Keegan / January 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
The information revolution will soon reach a critical point in its brief but seismic history. It will shortly have to prove whether it can become a mass movement or whether it will remain the plaything of a digital elite-those able to afford the ?1,000 or so needed to buy the computer and modem required to gain access to the internet.
The phrase “information technology revolution” has been repeated so often it has become a clich?efore the actual event it describes has taken place. It is 15 years since Margaret Thatcher declared 1982 to be information technology year complete with its own minister (Kenneth Clarke’s finest hour many would argue). Typical British equipment of the early 1980s was the Sinclair or BBC B computer with 32k (32,000) bytes of memory (a byte being the memory sufficient to store the equivalent of one character). Today a similarly priced computer might come 500 times more powerful with 16m bytes of memory.
In those days the future of the information revolution was seen partly in terms of computers and partly in terms of the expected invasion of US cable companies. The worldwide network of computer networks known as the internet was then used at an embryonic level by universities in the US, but was unknown in Britain. Now it is the main medium of the revolution making possible things that were undreamed of in 1982.
Like what? Like being able to sit in front of a computer screen knowing that you are three or four seconds away from getting data on almost any subject you want-as long as you know exactly what it is you want and the key words to discover it. For example, if you type the words “information overload” into the appropriate space on one of the internet’s search facilities, then wait a few seconds during which thousands of data bases all over the world will be searched, the screen will present you with hundreds if not thousands of references arranged in merit order with the ten most likely to meet your requirements at the top. It is a stunning capability the wonder of which ought not to be lessened by constant use.
You can also download still pictures, voice recordings, even moving pictures; send and receive electronic mail and exchange views with like-minded user groups; join doctors participating remotely in operations taking place thousands of miles away, and so…