At the end of the work day on Friday, there was one last thing I needed to read on a web page to help solve a problem that had been vexing me for a couple weeks, but I knew that if I took the time to look at it in the office, I’d miss the bus and have to wait an extra half hour for the next one to pick me up. So I grabbed my work-issued laptop, tucked it into my backpack, and rushed off to the bus station. Once on the bus, I pulled the computer back out and began reading the web page, but soon realized that to arrive at the solution, I’d have to follow a link to another page. The next time the bus stopped to pick up a new rider, I quickly scanned for an unencrypted wireless network, connected to it, and clicked on the link, just in time to fully load the next page before the bus pulled away and out of range.
Then it occurred to me: ten years ago I would have considered such a sequence of events science fiction. The idea of retrieving information from the other side of the country through a random wireless network from a laptop while sitting on a bus would have seemed ludicrous. But like so many new technologies, we almost instantly assimilate them into our lives, considering them no more noteworthy than a bicycle or an electric light. I don’t even think twice anymore when I see people walking down the street with white earbuds in their ears or the cyborg-like bluetooth cellphone headsets clinging to the side of their heads like barnacles. It makes me wonder how different technology will have made our lives by 2026. If we could peer 20 years into the future, would we recognize ourselves?
On a completely unrelated note, I just saw that gas prices around here have plummeted more than 60 cents from their highest levels a few months ago — just in time to have an impact on the upcoming elections! Is it just a coincidence?