How did the world ever sufficiently spin on its axis and remain in its proper orbit without the Internet and broadband connectivity?I have been left to ponder these ethereal riddles the past two weeks as I've attempted to complete a move of my home office that required I spend about two weeks working with a 56K dial-up connection, or basically no connection at all.
I see those Dennis Miller commercials endlessly where he touts the low-cost virtues of a leading dial-up Internet Service Provider, and I've heard tales from people who continue to exist solely on dial-up access. One thing is certain; those remaining dial-up centric are not trying to operate a home office.
Relying on dial-up access has a variety of obstacles, beginning with simply getting a working connection. Although my internal modem claims to be a 56K variety, the best connection I was able to ever achieve the past two weeks was 31.2K, which was also the minimum necessary speed to actually be able get my browser and required corporate VPN to operate in the mostly measly of fashion.
Working with a 31.2K connection meant the most basic tasks such as trying to access a corporate website's press release archive and searching for a specific item could go from what normally would be a five minute task to an hour long endeavor, if the task was ever successful. Those wonderful attachments on emails with critical presentation slides simply would not download.
But the Internet has been a fixture of my job for only the past decade, and broadband access for only the past five or so years. So how did I ever manage to survive as a professional journalist for the first 15 to 20 years of my 25-year career?
First of all it is clear that broadband connectivity is the most important attribute that has empowered the home office worker for the past decade. When I first made the jump to a home office about seven years ago I utilized an ISDN connection, which many may not consider a true broadband connection, but at least it provided adequate bandwidth for most necessary operations at the time. Within a year or two, I was able to move first to a cable modem and for the past several years to a DSL connection, truly making the home office experience feasible with connection speeds of a megabit and greater.
This brings me to the Internet, and how it has changed the face of journalism.
I've been in the game long enough to have gone from seeing my first college newspaper produced using moveable hot type, to where my initial positions as a reporter on daily newspapers involving the use of punch tapes and scanners as those small and mid-size dailies coped with adding adequate computing resources in the early and mid '80s. But even the advent of PCs dedicated to individual reporters which gained momentum as the decade wore on didn't results in as dramatic a change as the rise of the Internet in the '90s.
For decades, if not centuries, newspapers relied on in-house collections of research materials and old files that were collected in rooms referred to as morgues. They were generally located in basements or back corners of the buildings, where some underappreciated employee toiled endlessly in an effort to keep the right resources in place, and help those reporters and editors who dared to enter the morgue seeking information.
The morgue was replaced by the Internet. I can now sit at my desk and, provided I've got that magical broadband connection, find in minutes what previously required that walk down to the basement and a subsequent search through the musty files, or even a road-trip down to a public or university library. Even my own workspace was filled with filing cabinets containing those old corporate annual reports and relevant background materials I would need on a regular basis.
The Internet never led to the paperless office that once was talked about, at least not around my office where I rely on print-outs of relevant material I will use in preparation of a specific story. (Hewlett-Packard's printer cartridge business has never met a better friend.) But once the story is completed, the vast majority of that material goes in a recycle bin and not into some now non-existent filing cabinet.
And of course, the Internet is changing the very nature of journalism. More than even television and 24-hour cable news broadcasts, online news capabilities have dramatically disrupted the nature of what we report and how it is presented to consumers of the content.
When I look back on this current decade, I wonder what advances now in the evolutionary process, such as wireless connectivity, that I will find as irreplaceable as broadband and the Internet.