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Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Phone rates down, paper costs up: How computing has changed since 1969

The White Man doesn't typically comment on the big news of the day, but I can't pass up an opportunity to highlight how things have changed in the 28 years since I first laid eyes on a personal computer.

This was the situation then:

Even at weekend rates, it cost $10 to keep the phone line open for the time it took to download the daily newspaper--text-only, of course. But a hard copy of the paper cost only a quarter. So who was going to pay 40 times as much for today's news, minus all the black-and-white photos?

This is the situation now:

Every major newspaper, and virtually all minor ones if they're owned by a nationwide chain, has a free online edition. At the most you have to register to get the day's news, and there's no lack of places to go to see not only full-color photos, but usually video coverage as well. You can even go one better and watch the same raw feed that the newsrooms used to get by teletype and facsimile machine. Your cost? A broadband connection to the internet, with unlimited download time, costs as much as a monthly phone bill, minus the long distance. And long distance is practically free. Even downloading the paper at 1¢ a minute for two hours would cost you less than the weekend edition in hard copy.

The result? Major newspapers are going out of print, and probably half of them will be gone within 5 years.

In between these 2 extremes are 28 years of changes in the way people get their news. These changes were totally foreseeable 50 years ago, except that instead of talking into a 2-way TV on his wrist, Dick Tracy now downloads Youtube content onto a web-capable IPOD that he carries in his pocket.

Here's another prediction of how the internet will change our lives, circa 1969:

Alas, in 1969, the home computer was not yet--although that was the year the Internet was invented, so the prophets could have been a bit more accurate, especially had they foreseen that computing would move beyond its dependence upon a printer for output.

So--what trends can we see now that should alert us to changes coming in the near future?

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