Desktop Guru Sees Future in Rise of Digital Technologies

AFTER foreseeing and fostering one technological revolution, Jonathan Seybold recognized another: The world was going digital.

``This was really an epiphany that hit me about six years ago. One morning I looked around and said, `This is going to happen. And it's really going to happen in the 1990s,' '' he says.

Mr. Seybold, a publisher of newsletters, a prominent consultant, and an organizer of seminars bringing high-tech players together, helped shape the desktop-publishing industry in the 1980s. Now he helps clarify the ``marvelous chaos'' of the early days of convergence, the melding of computers, telephones, and television. This joining is possible because of digital technology, the translation of sound and images into the 1's and 0's of computer language.

Convergence presents exciting possibilities: instant access to information from nearly anywhere, books and movies on demand, less commuting, professional and social mixing in cyberspace. Some elements, such as Internet and other computer networks, and interactive television already are here.

But the new technology also raises important questions concerning the workplace, access, privacy, and the gap between the technological haves and have-nots. Seybold says this is the time to address these issues.

``Part of what is important to do right now is to get enough people ... to understand the changes we're going through, that the decisions we make early on push things in the right direction rather than the wrong direction,'' Seybold said in a recent interview.

With advances in technology, people can now combine and modify data - written and spoken words, video, pictures, and music - in new ways. This is a ``fundamental historical shift'' occurring over a relatively short period of time, Seybold says. It's giving rise to what's often referred to as the ``information superhighway,'' a term he says is inaccurate.

``What we're talking about is building giant networks of interactive computer systems all tied together that are 1,000 times more powerful than ones that are put in today's offices,'' he says. While the infrastructure of the digital revolution already is under way, Seybold estimates it will take about 15 years to be completed.

The problem is that no one knows exactly how the new digital world will evolve and what effects it will have.

``We're expecting people who can't program their VCRs to interact with these things and the systems to have an extraordinary degree of security, privacy, and reliability,'' he says. ``It's a daunting challenge.''

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