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Volume 1, Issue 3      March 1994

Coming of Information Overload - The Thrilling Conclusion:
Information Propagation

At the risk of drifting away from topics more closely related to NSPRI, I'd like to add onto some of the subject matter of last month's article (The Coming of Information Overload , vol.1, iss.2), in particular, some ideas occurred to me during a phone conversation about how the information highway, or whatever it is eventually called, might develop.

At the moment we have numerous online services that we can connect to: Internet, pay-services such as Compuserve and Genie , and a plethora of smaller BBS's run by individuals or small groups. We also have television, with its network, cable, satellite and video-rental empires, along with even other information sources. It seems unlikely that they will all grow together in peace and harmony but will have 'boundary disputes' fought by legions of lawyers whose main artillery is to confuse the issues involved. At the core of these boundary encounters will be the ability to transfer the flow of information from one medium to another. A few examples to illustrate what I mean are probably in order.

Say you take stock quotes and pipe them directly into a network (pay, of course!) and have subscribers view that on their machines at home instead of wait on the news. Or, perhaps, you do want the editorial about the news that comes with the stock quotes too but you still want it to come through an online service so that users can capture the data into a file while they watch. The ability to see a televised broadcast open on a window on the person's screen along with other windows already exists, but having a broadcast transmitted in online services is at the moment impractical. Yet given a couple of technological and logistic breakthroughs it could easily be possible, along with collateral legal breakthroughs, of course.

Or perhaps somebody in our hypothetical future has decided to make copies of songs and store them as files on a mass storage device, and then transmit them by modem to others to play on through the sound cards on their own machines. While some hold it up as the ultimate democratization of information which it would obviously would be, the war of copy protection would extend to yet another battlefield. At present the only thing preventing this is the astronomically large size of sound files in relation to current mass storage device capacities and cost: getting a "single" completely encoded digitally would use up an enormous amount of memory, which would cost more than a purchased CD.

To get back to the point I was trying to make, there will doubtless be a number of situations where the ability to convert information from one medium to another creates friction. The eventual outcome of this probably won't be any kind of 'unity.' We don't tend to work that way anyway, despite the attractiveness of the idea or a philosophical basis. As the 'information highway' expands and becomes available to more and more, it is not unreasonable to assume that all of us will by necessity spend yet more time in front of CRT or videoscreen. That very fact will cause it to be used more heavily and to have more and more expected of it.-- Peter Spangler.

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National Solar Power Research Institute, Inc., © 1994.
Editor - Mark Ciotola; Assoc. Editor - A. To; Publisher - Peter Spangler. Contributing writers: Abdoulaye Yansane, Jean Wu, Ri-Xi Liang, Zilian Tang. Officers: Ri-Gui Dalia Liang, Ann Marie Cheng and Mark Ciotola. Subscriptions: 50 reimbursement per issue domestic / 23 plus postage foreign. A matching donation is suggested, but optional. Limited number of free copies available. Mail subscriptions and correspondence to the National Solar Power Research Institute, Inc., 601 Van Ness Avenue Suite E3248, San Francisco, CA 94102. V1 I3.