September 22, 2017

When the Astonishing Becomes Commonplace

cometRecently I’ve been thinking about the recent past and the not-too-distant future. Mostly in terms of what we have been able to achieve in imaging our world.

For example, do you remember what the world was like before you could see a map and a photograph of any spot on the planet? It wasn’t all that long ago, right? And yet now we take it for granted. If I have a hankering to see what a particular spot in the wilds of Siberia looks like, I can. If I want to see what a particular store front on a side street in Manhattan looks like, I can. Frankly, it still astonishes me. As it should you, unless you are a lot younger than I am.

This has got me to thinking. Where does it end? With the simultaneous drop in price of both the ability to capture video and the cost to store that video, what would prevent us, from some point in the future, of capturing 24/7 video of particularly interesting places on our planet? Then, eventually, pretty much everything else? What if you could look up what the Grand Canyon looked like from a particular spot at a particular time on a particular day? What if?

Oddly enough, thinking these thoughts is a great deal less revolutionary than imagining where we are now from 5-10 years ago. So it is difficult to think that what I describe is all that revolutionary — frankly, it isn’t at all. At best, it is evolutionary. In other words, nothing all that special.

Meanwhile, today we landed a probe on a comet. Think about that for a minute. Landing a spacecraft on an oversized rock hurtling through space. The astonishing has truly become commonplace. And yet I still don’t have the jetpack I was promised back in the ’60s. Technological advances are extremely difficult to predict. And that is where all the fun lies.

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Roy Tennant About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. He is the owner of the Web4Lib and XML4Lib electronic discussions, and the creator and editor of Current Cites, a current awareness newsletter published every month since 1990. His books include "Technology in Libraries: Essays in Honor of Anne Grodzins Lipow" (2008), "Managing the Digital Library" (2004), "XML in Libraries" (2002), "Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial" (1996), and "Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook" (1993). Roy wrote a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and has written numerous articles in other professional journals. In 2003, he received the American Library Association's LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Excellence in Communication for Continuing Education. Follow him on Twitter @rtennant.