The Industrial age was largely defined by the ability to mass produce items that eased the chores of daily life and expanded our view of the world through access to multiple forms of transportation. The internal combustion engine provided the opportunity for the automobile to become the iconic product of the analog (atoms) age. During the 20th century the car has shaped lives in enumerable ways, and continues to morph into new forms and into new communities without a hint of fading away.
Likewise, the 21st century, the digital (equations) age powered by the transitor has paved the way for a new icon, the computer. And, though still young it is fully poised to mature and frame this age of information technology (IT). Computing technologies are driving global changes and will surely shape lives more profoundly than the automobile. As with personal transportation, IT will impact the way we live by its ability to connect and separate us at the same time. The major distinction being one does it physically and the other accomplishes the same ends virtually.
In 1995 Nicholas Negropointe penned a definitive book, "Being Digital", in which he discussed the changes we could anticipate as Information Technology expanded its reach into society. His book was full of great insight about this new way of being - digital. He also pointed to a post-information age in which mass media would get bigger and smaller at the same time thanks to the internet. And so it seems at this moment the ever-present "cell phone" has captured the imaginations of consumers and is the newest embodiment/ frontier for human mobility and information sharing.
The questions in the immediate future seem to be around sorting out opportunities in a media-rich environment where the likes of YouTube and MySpace are satisfying a demand for personal networking. And as we, designers, consider the constant layering of technological innovations and the resulting complexities we face in developing useful products there is also a tremendous opportunity for the synthesizing talents of the design professional.
Information technology will continue to grow exponentially according to Ray Kurweil, a futurist among other things. So in the near future we will continue to see digital products integrated into ever more areas of our lives. And further down the road, is an ability to improve the condition of the human body through design three-dimensional self organizing molecular structures that will work internally to improve the quality of human life.
Being Digtal Online
Wired Article Being Digital (1995)
Being Digital Summary
Video: $100 Laptop
Wired Article on Ray Kurweil
Video: Ray Kurweil