As a little boy during the World’s Fair of 1963-4 in New York City, I first saw a prototype of what the telephone was supposed to be by the year 2000. It was supposed to be a videophone.
For example, the photo below was what Western Electric Company, which made the telephone handsets for the American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) monopoly thought that the telephone would look like in 1997 (the silly hat was optional).
For decades thereafter, telephone companies such as AT&T, British Telecom, Deutsche Telecom, and Nippon Telephone & Telegraph (NTT) planned to offer videophotos to consumers and businesses. But the major phone companies failed to anticipate two events during the 1990s:
(1) That the Internet, which had been a private network only for governmental or academic usage, would become open to the public();
(2) That the Internet bandwidth available to homes and offices would become sufficient for video once those companies and others laid hundreds of thousands of kilometers of fiber optic cables and provided homes and offices with T-1, DSL, and cable modems during the ‘Internet Boom’.
Those major companies’ videoconferencing plans evaporated, and are now being replaced by inexpensive videoconferencing applications developed by start-up companies or by the wunderkind of start-ups, Steve Jobs.
I nowadays routinely use the Festoon videoconferencing application for Skype. And today, without leaving my office in Connecticut, I had the please of giving an hour-long talk to the journalism students at University of Skopje in Macedonia, thanks to technology packaged for me by the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.
Though I’ve lectured in person at Missouri’s campus, I nowadays do so directly from my Connecticut office, thanks to that school’s ‘Mac-in-the-box’ remote lecturing package, the brainchild of that school’s Associate Professor of Journalism Clyde Bentley.
The package consists of an Apple I-Book laptop, Griffin SightLight camera, and an aluminum briefcase for shipping. Rather than incur the travel time and expenses of bringing the lecturer to campus, the school instead ships the ‘Mac-in-the-box’ videoconferencing package to the lecturer. Plug an Internet connection into its Ethernet slot and the laptop automatically connects with the school’s videoconferencing system.
Sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s International Broadcasting Bureau, University of Missouri Assistant Instructor in Convergence Journalism Curt Wohleber this week is teaching at the University of Skopje in Macedonia and invited me to talk with a journalism class there about the business of online news publishing. To do this, Bentley shipped me a ‘Mac-in-the-box’ package (top photo). It worked superbly. I’ll be using it again on Friday when I’ll be talking to one of Missouri’s own journalism classes.
Let me thank the University of Skopje class! They are intelligent and enthusiastic. I’m making the point of mentioning that because I haven’t been finding those characteristics very often among American journalism school’s undergraduate students, who all too often see journalism as merely a job and not an quest. Perhaps we Americans don’t value our freedoms as much as the people of the Republic of Macedonia (founded 1991) value theirs?
[ A footnote: Who opened the Internet to public usage? The answer is former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who is speaking today at the Behold the Power of Us online journalism conference in New York. Gore’s critics have lambasted him for boasting, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” Of course, Gore didn’t create the Internet; telecommunications scientists Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn did. But what Vice President Gore did do for which he deserves credit was order that governmental and academic network be opened to the public in 1992. Though he didn’t create the Internet, Gore did create the opportunity for nearly a billion consumers worldwide now to use it.]