The Future is Now

We had some fun during this week’s class when we went into the “wayback machine” and took a look at a Newsweek article from 1995 about the internet.

It was originally titled, “The Internet? Bah!” and in recent years updated online to “Why the Web Won’t be Nirvana.” The author, Clifford Stoll, a computer expert, gives his assessment of the burgeoning technology calling it both “trendy” and “oversold”.  

See into the Future / photo:  Christian Weidinger / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode

See into the Future / photo: Christian Weidinger / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode

While visionaries at the time predicted a future including telecommuting, virtual communities and online shopping, Stoll wasn’t buying it. He couldn’t imagine an online data base taking the place of newspapers, books and even a trip to the mall.

It’s easy to laugh at his lack of foresight, but can we even fathom where this technology is headed? Look at how the predictions Stoll wrote about actually became a reality in just twenty years. The technology continues to evolve at an amazing pace and it is transforming our lives both at work and home.

This transformation has been referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution and is the theme at this year’s World Economic Forum.

4th-industrial-revolution1

The Forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab has written,

“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”

The visionaries of today predict the rise of robots and artificial intelligence which will reduce the need for human intervention. They say this will have all kinds of implications in business, government and how we as humans interact with each other.

You don’t need to be Clifford Stoll to feel a little overwhelmed trying to wrap your head around that.

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We interrupt this blog…

The big news story in my world is that I started graduate school this month at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. So for the time being this blog will expand beyond issues about women in media and instead I’ll be using it to reflect on the coursework and classroom discussions from my Introduction to Digital Communications class.

Our first topic out the gate is digital convergence. The part of our class discussion that I would like to focus on is the effect it has had on television news media. Digital convergence changed everything from the technology used to report a story to how the actual news is being reported.

Imagine a newsroom with people banging out scripts on typewriters and ripping copy off of newswire machines. Yes kids, that’s what a newsroom looked like thirty years ago when I started my first job at ABC’s Good Morning America. While my career began at the tail end of the IBM Selectric phase, it was not long before the first computers were introduced into the office. These machines mostly functioned as word processors and we had to share them.

As the years went on there were more technological developments with fax machines, email and even early cell phones which were about the size of a brick. All of these devices made our jobs easier and delivered the news more efficiently, but did it make us better reporters?

Part of our class discussion touched on the advent of the 24 hour news cycle and the effect it has had on in-depth news reporting. Some said they no longer trust broadcast news organizations and that the public now needs to do a lot of the digging in order to get the full story.

This made me think about how my job as a producer changed overtime. In the early part of my career as an associate producer, we often took weeks to research special series. I recall spending many hours on the phone talking to experts and sources to research and set up stories. It was not uncommon to be sent to the town or city where the story was taking place to do some of this research in person before shooting any footage.

All of this dramatically changed in the mid 1990s when the internet made its way into the newsroom. Suddenly there was a trove of information at our fingertips. This instant access accelerated the speed at which we turned stories and reported the news. But while the internet made us feel more globally connected, it also seemed to keep us tethered to our desks.

The new century brought with it new competition. Networks and cable stations not only had to vie for viewers with other broadcast outlets, but also on the internet. Consumers were looking elsewhere for their news including online media outlets and social media. The popularity of smart phone technology led to a whole new dynamic in the flow of information and diminished attention spans. The industry turned to talk-oriented shows filled with opinions and commentary and wall-to-wall coverage of big news stories to grab the attention of viewers. Today “breaking news” is the mantra of the broadcast industry, but I think some in my class would say “broken news” is a more accurate description.

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