U.S. still lags behind Europe in technology

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (U-WIRE) — Fear not, fans of Yahoo!, E-Trade, Pets.com and Napster. Last week’s plunge in the NASDAQ and the relatively mild slide in the Dow Jones was said to threaten the incredible momentum machine behind the high-tech industry and its image, both on Wall Street and on Main Street. But despite what some media commentators say about “overvaluation,” the high-tech industry has not even scratched the surface of its potential.
In the middle of 1993, when some of my friends from campus were leaving for the “real world,” I encouraged them all to get e-mail so we could remain in touch. Many thought I was too taken with e-mail, which I first used in December 1992. They called it a “nerd thing.” E-mail was just something college students and professors used on campus, they said. In the real world, people have faxes, phones and Fed Ex. They can jet off to meetings if distance is a problem. But they were wrong. E-mail was the first wave of the technology revolution.
As far back as 1985, innovators like ultimate-nerds Bill Gates and America Online’s Steve Case knew and had the relatively small amounts of start-up cash to make it work. But they knew e-mail would eventually become boring, so some worked on an off-shoot known as “HTTP.” Around 1989, the Web was born. Also, user-friendly operating systems known as Windows and Mac started making computing easy.
Around 1995, the Web began to work its way into the American lexicon. By 1996, both presidential campaigns had Web sites we would probably snicker at now. But businesses were slow to come on board the Internet Clipper. In 1996, 1997 and 1998, many newspapers and magazines began to go online. That’s when things hit the stratosphere.
Now, businesses don’t advertise their companies anymore, they advertise their Web sites. You then go to their Web site and all of a sudden you have access to, say, materials that would take you months to find on foot.
Journalists can toss aside the magazines and encyclopedias and access files, facts, figures and dated articles. No more long trips to the library; the library comes to you. Even more amazing, the Indiana University School of Journalism has many courses in online reporting, editing and design. Always one of the most “wired” of American campuses, Indiana University responded quickly to the Net Revolution. The things they teach now were beyond most people’s imaginations just a few years ago.
Change has been stunning. Nowadays, using a typewriter is almost unheard of on campus. And we have pioneers — an overused but appropriate description — like Bill Gates, Steve Case and countless others to thank for making life easier for us all. Napster, like videotape players, has shaken the recording industry to its roots.
And even video rental businesses fear the digital tide. As people will soon start having interactive access via their cable service, they will be able to order any movie at any time. No wonder Blockbuster relaxed their return policy.
Another major change was recently chronicled in the April 12 Indianapolis Star. The inventor of the cellular phone, Martin Cooper of ArrayComm Inc., plans to push for a wireless America, one where most of our phones, notepad computers, etc. move wirelessly — and at speeds equal or superior to cable or DSL connections. It’s not unprecedented. Finland and Japan, who are ahead of America, can already do amazing things.
In Maryanne Murray Buechner’s Time Aug. 23, 1999 article, too much competition was blamed for why America is lagging behind the Finns and Japanese.
She explains why, stating that, “The whizziest stuff you can do with a cell phone requires a digital network, and the Europeans had a three-year head start implementing theirs. Moreover, they chose one network technology. The use of a single standard puts them in a much better position to embrace the next big thing in wireless.”
The trend will not just affect cell phones. “Japan is expected to steal Europe’s lead come March 2001,” Buechner wrote. “(That’s the) target date for deployment of a high-speed network capable of moving wireless data as fast as two mbps. Europe is expected to upgrade its system to high-speed data services a few months after Japan. As for the United States? We’ll be lucky to get there by 2003.”
Still, in the long-run, American companies will probably out-do their competitors. Cooper, who struggled with Motorola to market their first hand-held cell phone in 1983 with a mere $90 million budget, plans to market access to cell phones and palm-sized and notebook-sized computers that can receive as many as 1 million bytes per second.
Cooper, who presented his ideas at the Internet World 2000 conference, used a photo of the Star Trek crew in his presentation. What’s funny about that is the crew only had one set of communicators. Their hand-held computers, “tricorders,” weren’t wired and couldn’t communicate with the Enterprise.
We’ve already beaten the 23rd century. Now let’s beat the Finns.
Jim Stinson’s column originally appeared in Tuesday’s Indiana University paper, the Indiana Daily Student.