A report commissioned by the National Science Foundation and made public today [13 June] speculates that by the end of this century electronic information technology will have transformed American home, business, manufacturing, school, family and political life.
The report suggests that one-way and two-way home information systems, called teletext and videotex, will penetrate deeply into daily life, with an effect on society as profound as those of the automobile and commercial television earlier in this century.
It conjured a vision, at once appealing and threatening, of a style of life defined and controlled by videotex terminals throughout the house.
As a consequence, the report envisioned this kind of American home by the year 1998:
Family life is not limited to meals, weekend outings, and once-a-year vacations. Instead of being the glue that holds things together so that family members can do all those other things they're expected to do - like work, school, and community gatherings -the family is the unit that does those other things, and the home is the place where they get done. Like the term 'cottage industry,' this view might seem to reflect a previous era when family trades were passed down from generation to generation, and children apprenticed to their parents. In the 'electronic cottage,' however, one electronic 'tool kit' can support many information production trades.It continues that -
Privacy Issues Seen Posed
The report warned that the new technology would raise difficult issues of privacy and control that will have to be addressed soon to "maximize its benefits and minimize its threats to society." ...
The study focused on the emerging videotex industry, formed by the marriage of two older technologies, communications and computing. It estimated that 40 percent of American households will have two-way videotex service by the end of the century. By comparison, it took television 16 years to penetrate 90 percent of households from the time commercial service was begun.
Opportunities for Abuse
The "key driving force" controlling the speed of videotex penetration, the report said, is the extent to which advertisers can be persuaded to use it, reducing the cost of the service to subscribers.
But for all the potential benefits the new technology may bring, the report said, there will be unpleasant "trade offs" in "control".
"Videotex systems create opportunities for individuals to exercise much greater choice over the information available to them," the researchers wrote. "Individuals may be able to use videotex systems to create their own newspapers, design their own curricula, compile their own consumer guides.
"On the other hand, because of the complexity and sophistication of these systems, they create new dangers of manipulation or social engineering, either for political or economic gain. Similarly, at the same time that these systems will bring a greatly increased flow of information and services into the home, they will also carry a stream of information out of the home about the preferences and behavior of its occupants."
Social Side Effects
The report stressed what it called "transformative effects" of the new technology, the largely unintended and unanticipated social side effects. "Television, for example, was developed to provide entertainment for mass audiences but the extent of its social and psychological side effects on children and adults was never planned for," the report said. "The mass-produced automobile has impacted on city design, allocation of recreation time, environmental policy, and the design of hospital emergency room facilities."
Such effects, it added, were likely to become apparent in home and family life, in the consumer marketplace, in the business office and in politics.
Widespread penetration of the technology, it said, would mean, among other things, these developments:
- The home will double as a place of employment, with men and women conducting much of their work at the computer terminal. This will affect both the architecture and location of the home. It will also blur the distinction between places of residence and places of business, with uncertain effects on zoning, travel patterns and neighborhoods.
- Home-based shopping will permit consumers to control manufacturing directly, ordering exactly what they need for "production on demand."
- There will be a shift away from conventional workplace and school socialization. Friends, peer groups and alliances will be determined electronically, creating classes of people based on interests and skills rather than age and social class.
- A new profession of information "brokers" and "managers" will emerge, serving as "gatekeepers," monitoring politicians and corporations and selectively releasing information to interested parties.
- The "extended family" might be recreated if the elderly can support themselves through electronic homework, making them more desirable to have around.
24 June 2011
From the NY Times coverage in 1982 of the National Science Foundation Teletext and Videotex in the United States report, under the heading 'Study Says Technology Could Transform Society' -