Sunday, April 27, 2008

Speed-Dialing the Future

A friend recently bought me an authentic replica of a communicator used on the original Star Trek series 42 years ago. This was something we'd both wanted since we were kids. The metal shield flipped open and it chirped and beeped just like the ones on the show.

One of the first things we noticed after taking this gizmo out of the box was how big it was. Side-by-side comparisons with similarly sized devices -- a current flip phone, a Palm Treo and a BlackBerry -- made me realize that I'd been carrying around variations of this long-coveted Captain Kirk communicator for more than a decade. The journey from NBC's Star Trek to Motorola's StarTAC (the venerable mid-'90s phone pictured far right) had only taken 30 years, not three centuries.

The future has a way of overtaking imagination like that. What was fantastical fiction a few years back suddenly becomes front-page news and the subject of debate in Washington, across the country and around the world. Stem cells and cloning. Moon bases. Microchip implants. Online worlds. Satellite warfare. High-speed global data networks. Genetically altered food. Are we watching the SciFi channel or C-SPAN?

This is the terrain I've been exploring for the past year in the "Futurist" columns I write for Congressional Quarterly's CQ Weekly (an assignment and column name I inherited from a far-sighted former colleague, Mike Mills, who is now editor of the Washington Business Journal). I also tread on similar subjects, though typically in a more down-to-earth and practical manner, in the technology columns and e-mail newsletters I write for Governing, a monthly magazine for officials in state and local government, also published by CQ.

My observations are based on no particular expertise other than my journalistic experience and curiosity. Before coming to CQ Inc., I worked at the Washington Post and the Raleigh News & Observer and coauthored two books on the media. I have covered politics, science and technology on and off for 17 years while also working on both the editorial and business sides of print and online publishing. Media, like many industries, is feeling its way into a future that is both exciting and unsettling -- and the way technology is changing our business often provides interesting material too.

In my reporting I often come across much more intriguing stuff than I can ever fit into my periodic columns and newsletters. I also find new information that adds to what I know about subjects I have already covered -- as well as facts and ideas that will take time to fuse and form full-length columns.

My hope with this blog is to take you along with me on this quest for tips, trends and tools from the worlds of tomorrow. And I welcome any ideas or insights you might have for me along the way.

So strap in, put on your helmet and prepare for liftoff. Next stop: the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And Next Gen datapads are today's PDAs and BlackBerrys.