April/May 2000

Perhaps some of you will remember that six years ago you elected me to be the Secretary of SID. Then, four years ago, you decided that I should become your Treasurer. Two years later, the nominating committee asked, I agreed, and you concurred that I should be the next President-Elect. Finally, one year ago, you were asked to re-confirm your earlier decision that starting in May 2000 I would, in fact, get the opportunity to serve as your President.

It is now May 2000 and I have been told that the time has come for me to act more "Presidential" -- hinting, I suppose, that the column I have been writing in this space for the last seven and one-half years wasn't quite presidential enough. So we have decided that I will continue to do a monthly column, but with an emphasis on those people, management, and technology issues that can contribute to the increased effectiveness of SID and to enhancing the building of those relationships that provide value to all of us as members of this society. Can I do this and still keep the column interesting? There's only one way to find out. Let's begin.

To get you into the proper frame of mind for what is likely to come over the next year or two in these new-style columns, let us open the discussion by considering why the functioning of groups such as the SID is going to be of ever-growing world-wide importance in the 21st century. You may wish to view this as creating the vision for a "grand cathedral" that we intend to build.

Since the days of cave dwellers, control of land and natural resources has been the primary path to growth and survival. Those who controlled the most territory, had the greatest abundance of critical materials, and could most effectively exploit the people inhabiting their fiefdoms, were the most powerful and richest. It was only in the last few centuries of the second millennium that a few groups of people found they could do even better if everyone participated in and shared more equitably in the creation of wealth. However, these people groupings were associated with certain land masses with well-defined borders -- called countries, kingdoms, or states -- and they continue to be.

Toward the end of the second millennium some of the wiser countries realized that such government-imposed boundaries were an unnecessary impediment to economic growth. They took a bold step and removed the border-control points and began to allow for the free movement of people and goods. Some others had to overcome more difficult challenges because their barriers had been so severe. Yet, in spite of that, they made great strides in learning how to become more comfortable as "citizens of the world." A few laggards continued in their stubborn and old-fashioned ways of tightly controlling the activities of their inhabitants and even trying to expand their influence by the use of military force.

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In the meantime (about one-hundred and sixty years ago), we technologists gave birth to electronic communications. First there was the telegraph, then the telephone, then radio, and then television. Worldwide communications grew from radio, to transoceanic telephone cables, to communication satellites, to long-distance fiber-optic links. Then came computers, the Internet, the World Wide Web, and cell phones. As these communications methods proliferated and as the cost of communicating began to decrease we all, almost imperceptibly, broadened our circle of daily contacts. Not so many years ago, receiving a telegram or making a long-distance telephone call was an event of some importance. Today many of us make more long-distance calls each day than local ones and we have the ability to send e-mail messages at costs so low that almost everyone can do it without having to consider budgetary limitations. In the first two decades of the 21st century, worldwide voice and e-mail messaging will continue to expand and costs will decrease further -- eventually approaching zero.

Therefore, as we enter the third millennium, fewer and fewer countries will be able to function effectively while attempting to exert arbitrary control over these communications channels. Electronic communications is creating a new world order that is becoming independent of geographic or political boundaries. As the traditional political alignments, based on territorial boundaries become less and less meaningful, people will begin to realize that the most beneficial groupings are by common interests and not by geography. No longer will we need to organize as our cave-dwelling ancestors did to control certain pieces of land. Instead, we will organize based on personal or business relationships with others in the global community. The ones who do that most effectively will be the winners in what will continue to be a highly competitive environment. The traditional government structures will hang on, most likely longer than they should, and serve as arbitrators to keep any one group from gaining too great a competitive advantage.

Therefore, organizations such as our Society for Information Display will play a vital and pre-eminent role in this new world order that will be driven by the ability to exchange information freely and instantaneously with colleagues anywhere on planet Earth -- and someday beyond. The electronic information exchanges will be supplemented by frequent "real-life" meetings, so that we can solidify these personal relationships, as we human beings have done throughout history.

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Over the last seven-and-a-half years of Display Continuum columns, we have contemplated a future in which we will have an over-abundance of opportunities for new and existing display technologies -- a future where we can expect to have reliable and simple-to-use Internet appliances, desk-top knowledge-space displays, digital photography and DVDs, high-resolution 2D electronic imaging displays, hardware-based knowledge cubes, sunlight-readable displays in all sizes from micro- to billboard-size, and location-independent data and voice communications devices. And we have also thought about some ways in which our lives will change -- hardly at all.

The Society for Information Display has an important role to play in the people and technical interactions that will be the catalysts for many of the new developments that will facilitate rapid progress in the information age. Therefore, we can and must look for ways to take a few well-measured steps toward creating an even stronger and more vibrant technical society that grows and broadens its influence in all regions of the world. This conviction, that we can and should be an important and fundamental contributor to the 21st-century Information Society, is a guiding principle on which we can base how we build SID, how we decide which new directions to take, and which new ideas to implement.

I am anxious to hear from you. Please send me your suggestions. Offers of participation and help will be most graciously accepted. I look forward with enthusiasm to serving as your President. You may contact me by e-mail at Email, by phone at 425-557-8850, by fax at 425-557-8983, or by regular mail to the hilltop at 22513 SE 47th Place, Issaquah, WA 98029.