Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting

DISPLAY CONSULTING

Contrary to Popular Opinion...October 2000

In a recent issue of Popular Science magazine one of the featured articles was a compendium of predictions about what automobiles will be like in 25 years. A futurist by the name of Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute made the prediction that "Today's auto industry will be toast by about 2020." He went on to say that "Cars in 2025 will be molded from advanced polymer composites, they will be lighter by threefold, ultra-low drag yet more crash-worthy, durable, reliable, recyclable, and spacious, with electric propulsion powered by direct hydrogen fuel cells." Do you think Mr. Lovins is right in these predictions given the huge investment in existing factories, the extensive and well-established supply chain, and the need to thoroughly test any new material before committing it to a cost-sensitive product that must pass all kinds of safety tests and government regulations? If you do, then perhaps you also believe in the tooth fairy?

In the mid-eighties, there was much talk about the imminent arrival of the paperless office. After all, with desk-top computers evolving to provide all the storage capability that anyone could reasonably need, why continue to clutter up our offices with information on pieces of paper?

At about the same time, we also experienced the first wave of promotion for teleconferencing as a substitute for business travel. But what do airports look like fifteen years later -- in the year 2000? Are they peaceful, nearly empty havens serving only those pleasure-related travel needs that cannot easily be met through the widespread use of teleconferencing? Did even one of the technology-driven futurists envision (from their mid-eighties perspective) today—s reality of airplanes flying filled to capacity, with people squeezed into exceedingly small spaces, eating incredibly bad food, and frequently not even departing or arriving at their intended times?

Maybe we can learn something by comparing these predictions to the actual outcomes. Just as television did not eliminate movie theaters and movie theaters did not eliminate live theater, perhaps we should consider that a new technology will often create a result exactly opposite to what a cursory observation might indicate. We all now know that instead of giving us a paperless office, the computer gave us the power to create vast new quantities of paper. Now, as we write, our word processors allow us to regenerate one or more pages with each minor correction, and we often reprint the entire document with just one thoughtless keystroke. In this context, let us consider what the Internet may be facilitating.

We are communicating with each other more than ever before. We have continued our use of location-based telephones. We have increased our communications capability by adding wearable, location-independent telephones. Many of us now have home fax machines. And the use of e-mail and the Internet have added yet another channel by which we communicate. The Internet has proved to be especially handy for international messages. The price can be low, or virtually free in some parts of the world, and the messages can be sent without regard to time differences. Language barriers are also easier to manage than via telephone. If we have all this available to us, then why are we travelling more instead of less? Are we like the "paperless office," behaving contrary to a "clearly obvious" conclusion?

What I think is happening is that the world-wide relationships we are building through these new electronic media are becoming so useful that we wish to strengthen them further through face-to-face encounters. Within the technical community, we do this through conferences, seminars, and visits to companies. The electronic communications media have allowed us to increase the number of relationships that we can support, and have made them independent of location. Therefore, when we do want to solidify them through personal contact, or accomplish tasks that are too complicated to perform at a distance, we end up travelling -- more than before.

Last September in my column titled "Search and Acquire" I suggested that the Internet provides a near-instant world-wide capability for the acquisition of information and goods. However, certain kinds of information and goods are better suited to the Internet than others -- an important but harsh lesson that many of the recently-formed dot-com companies are now learning. However, for the rest of us, it is comforting to know that most conventional stores will be in business for many years to come and, in fact, will benefit from, rather than be threatened by, the Internet. Similarly, the traditional mail-order businesses are learning how to use both printed catalogs and the new electronic media to defend their market positions. It seems that the benefits of the Internet to established information and commerce providers are far exceeding the competitive threats.

The Society for Information Display is likewise beginning to discover how to do more for the world-wide display community through the use of the Internet. Our web-site is turning out be a highly valued and extensively accessed information resource. While we expected that www.sid.org would provide useful information to the display community, we did not initially anticipate just how well the Internet would be suited to many of the search-and-acquire activities that SID members and others find so valuable.

By analyzing usage statistics, we are able to tell that many individuals access the site to check on conferences -- and then end up registering for those conferences on-line rather than by mail or by standing in line upon arrival at a conference. Conference Proceedings and other publications are being accessed and papers are being downloaded in large numbers. People networks are being developed through membership searches. Employment opportunities are being explored. sid.org is becoming the focal point for timely information on all that is important to the display community.

The Internet has also aided the internationalization of our Society. More detailed communications can be transmitted instantly. For example, paper summaries can be forwarded to technical-program committee members anywhere in the world with no loss of time or readability. Frequent communications can and do take place with the Society's officers and with the SID office in San Jose. There is no noticeable difference between a local communication and one that spans the globe. For technical data searches, for information about upcoming events, for access to publications, for forming people networks, and for working with others on specific information-intensive tasks, the SID web-site is becoming the medium of choice.

www.sid.org will continue to evolve and improve as we add more capabilities. And we can expect that these capabilities will only serve to enhance all of our other activities. Our conferences will continue to grow and we will add others that serve the growing display community. Our printed publications will benefit from easier dissemination of specific articles. And the worldwide networks of display experts will grow, and information exchanges will be facilitated.

It is my great honor and pleasure to be able to participate in this world-wide network we call the display community. I encourage and appreciate your communications with me. What new features would you like to see on the SID web-site? You can reach me via the Internet at Email or at president@sid.org, or by telephone at 425-557-8850, by FAX at 425-557-8983, or by the ever-available paper medium known as the U.S. Postal Service at 22513 SE 47th Place, Sammamish, WA 98075.