ON TECHNOLOGY

Nine months ago, this column began its run with the purpose of educating and informing the reader about issues in high technology.

Today, that thrust is unchanged, although we realize that the column could have just as appropriately been called "On Computers," or "On HASCS," or even "On Frank Steen."

But that's okay. Computers are at the core of nearly all emerging technologies, and surely the progress of the Information Age has been dictated by the evolution of the modern computer.

What does the future hold? Well, in the American home, at least, it's pretty clear that computers are moving away from their long-standing role as novelty devices and into a new role as everyday household appliances.

Say what? The notion of the computer as an "everyday household appliance" alongside the coffeemaker and the microwave oven may not jive with most of the American public today, but that's exactly the perception that the vanguard of the information industry needs to promote.

The first step in setting about this paradigm shift is to define the product. With coffeemakers, the product is a warm, tasty beverage. With microwave ovens, the product is a warm, tasty meal. With computers, the product is warm, tasty information.

It's the "warm, tasty" part that the information industry must now emphasize on developing. How does one cook up a tasty product from raw, plain information? Surely it must be possible, just as it's possible for one to cook up a tasty meal from raw, plain grain.

Granted, farmers have had centuries upon centuries to hone their trade, whereas the Information Age is only a few years old. But hey, things move quickly in the computer industry, right?

Not quite. Research and development in computer hardware may be moving quickly, but that's only because the product, or at the very least, the medium, is already well-defined. Such is not the case when it comes to pure information. How does one package it? How does one present it? How does one make it warm and tasty?

Take the Internet, for example. We've got to figure out a way to package this sea of information in a way the general public will appreciate. (Ignore for now the view that the Internet will not in and of itself become the backbone of the "info highway," since this problem of packaging information is a general one for which the Internet is but one example.)

Okay, so we've got these things called "newsgroups." And we've got stores of program files available by something called "ftp." And we've got a board database of information curiously entitled "gopher." And of course, we've got the snazzy multimedia version of all this, affectionately dubbed "World Wide Web."

Huh? Does this make any sense? Is it the least bit intuitive?

As Aldous Huxley would say, "Ford no!"

Granted, the Internet technology was never intended to be married with Madison Avenue, but that's exactly the situation we're faced with. All of the online services have expressed as immediate goals the integration of Internet technology with their products and the expansion of their customer bases into the general television-viewing public.

Can these goals be achieved at once, and if so, how do we package the Internet so that it can be appreciated by the general public? Let's talk about it. E-mail me. Post on harvard.org.crimson.

And until next September may the power of information be with you.

Eugene Koh '97 is Remote Staff Manager, Media Services, at America Online, Inc. He admits that this year-end column is a bit self-serving since he is working in online product development over the summer. But he is genuinely interested n readers' suggestions on how to "package the Internet," and is eager to discuss these issues throughout the summer by e-mail at ekoh@fas.harvard.edu.