Pogue as Prophet

Pogue as Prophet

DAVID POGUE TAUGHT ME HOW TO USE my first Mac back in 1994. Or, rather, his book Mac Secrets did. Since then, Pogue has helped millions of people find their way through the mysteries of Macs, PCs, Photoshop, the internet, the Palm Pilot, classical music, opera, and even magic. His weekly column in The New York Times covers a broad range of emerging technologies, and his television series, It's All Geek to Me, explores the latest in high-tech gadgetry from cell phones and camcorders to iPods and laptops. That's why I was particularly interested in what he had to say last month in his EduComm keynote address, titled "Five Technologies for the Next Five Years."

Pogue began with a few famous technology quotes that have missed the mark, such as Western Union President William Orton's 1876 put-down of Alexander Graham Bell's new invention: "This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication," Orton said. "The device is of no value to us."

Then there was this prediction from a 1949 issue of Popular Mechanics: "Computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps only weigh one-and-a- half tons."

And the infamous "640K ought to be enough for anybody" quote, often attributed to Bill Gates. Gates never said it, Pogue admitted, "but it's just really fun to pretend he did."

The point was that the value of various technologies may not be revealed on first glance, but given the chance to develop, they may one day take their place as common tools.

Technology's value may not be revealed on first glance.

The five technologies he listed are:

- The end of landlines and the emergence of Voice over IP phone service. Free (or almost) phone calls anywhere, without worrying about cell coverage are not only on the horizon, they may be a reality by the time you read this (look for a big announcement from T-Mobile). One reason VoIP hasn't yet caught on, Pogue suggested, is that the major service providers are still heavily invested in landlines.

- RFID (radio frequency identification). These tiny chips can be used to ensure the accuracy of prescription drug dosages, identify the contents of shipping pallets, track prisoners and pets, and more. University libraries have already begun using them in books, making a stop at the checkout desk a thing of the past. Pogue said the technology helped one library find 500 misfiled books that were thought to be lost.

- ala carte TV. Increasingly, high-speed internet connections are enabling people to watch what they want, when they want. As proof Pogue pointed out that Apple's iTunes store has to date sold more than 50 million videos at $2 each. Websites such as YouTube are pioneering the new frontier of "audience-created TV," while some, like Metacafe, even pay content creators according to how many views they receive.

- High Definition. After several false starts, the FCC will soon turn off analog broadcast signals, making high-definition broadcasting the de facto delivery system. A side benefit of this move is that the frequency range formerly used by analog signals will be freed up for research uses.

- Web 2.0. This is a wide ranging category that includes podcasts, blogs, video blogs or "vlogs," social networks such as MySpace, and user-driven, collaborative sites like Digg, Flickr and others.

These technologies hold promise for education, although their full potential may not be apparent yet, and perhaps not even in their present form. To throw one more quote into the mix from Sun Microsystems Chairman Scott McNealy: "Technology has the shelf life of a banana." See David Pogue's keynote, as well as other EduComm sessions, a www.universitybusiness.com/educomm.


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