Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Predicting the Future, Part 4

Between 1998 and 2003, a group of IT staff members at Penn worked together to produce technology vision and strategy documents called PennNet-21. There were 3 editions, published in 1998, 2000 and 2003. Each explored relevant technologies and the steps we hoped to take to deliver better services to our user community. 
As one small part of this effort, I wrote vignettes that helped to describe how future technologies could play a role in improving common workflows. I found them fun to write and fun to look back upon now. There were five in all. I am in the process of publishing one every few days here in this blog, word for word as they appeared at the time. 
I invite you on a trip back to a “future as seen from the past” in these 5 PennNet-21 stories. As you read them, try to remember the actual technology of the time – a time before smartphones, generally before wireless networks, and before many of the things described were at all possible.

From PennNet-21 3rd Edition, 2003
“Ease of Access - a story set in the here and now (2003)”

Ernesto, a GSFA faculty member, was working from home, as he often did, sitting at his computer desk. He was speaking in a quiet voice and at a normal pace, watching his words appear as text on the screen. He was in a text-based chat session with his colleague Dinah, who was in her office at Penn.

The chat software recognized that the connection was good enough to support a voice call, and suggested this option to both parties. When they accepted, the chat session was replaced with a voice call almost without delay. Dinah picked up a telephone receiver on her desk, but Ernesto just continued to speak and listen through his headset, smiling as he thought about the easy transition. Not all of his colleagues appreciated the technology that made this sort of thing possible, but Ernesto surely did.

During the conversation, Ernesto selected a document with his mouse and allowed his computer to share it with Dinah's. They discussed some proposed changes, and then saved the updated document on Ernesto's computer, with a copy to Dinah's.

After they said goodbye and ended the session, Ernesto checked his University voice-mail box, again using the same headset. He was just finishing up and switching over to listen to some of his favorite music on his MP3 player through the headset when the doorbell rang. "Can't get this one from here here!" he thought, laughing to himself, and backed his wheelchair away from his desk with his good left hand, slowly moving towards his front door.

Story1 / Story2 / Story3 / Story4 / Story5 /
The above appeared as a "PennNet-21 Story" in the 2003 publication PennNet-21 Third Edition. Some of it may seem corny, some of it describes technologies that we really did have or came to know, or that are now coming of age. Please leave a comment to let us know what you think, and check back soon to read the last of the PennNet-21 stories.

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