Information, and rapid access to it, are becoming two of the world’s most valuable and most marketable commodities. How will this flood of information technology affect humanity, and particularly the mission of the church in the world?
Over the centuries the transmission of data has changed dramatically in both its methods and its pace. The printing press in rudimentary form was developed in the fifteenth century by Gutenberg. This sped up and made more readily available communications on paper.
Then came the electric telegraph in 1837, the postage stamp in 1840, Reuters news service in 1857, the manual typewriter in 1867, carbon paper in 1872, the telephone in 1876, radio transmission in 1895, the telephoto "fax" in 1931, broadcast television in 1938 and satellite communications in 1956.
Prototype mainframe computers appeared in the early 1940s. The invention of the transistor and microchip enhanced their rapid increase in sophistication and decrease in size. Between 1961 and 1990 the speed of computer operations increased 200,000 times.
In 1976 commercial production of the first PC (personal computer) began in a small house, and by 1985 the PC had captured ninety nine percent of the computer capacity throughout the world.
Today the ownership of a PC and access to the Internet are becoming as common in Australian households as the video recorder became previously. Technical improvements abound, such that the PC built in 1976 is now only useful as a museum piece.
And the PC will continue to improve. For example, the power of the microchips in a PC is currently doubling every two years, and its memory capacity is increasing exponentially.
As the PC has advanced in technical sophistication and memory capacity, the Internet has grown alongside it and allowed the PC to be a window on the world to an extent that the public media has never been able to achieve. A recent television documentary series claimed the Internet began at a university in California on 20th July 1969.
It was a quiet birth for the Internet on a day when all publicity was given to an event that will probably be remembered in history as more dramatic yet far less consequential - the step of astronaut Neil Armstrong on to the surface of the moon.
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