MY guess is that whether you like it or not, a remarkable ``box'' will evolve from human endeavor sometime around 2015, or maybe sooner. If I'm right - all politics and unsolved global transgressions aside - you will be able to buy an astonishing little black box (maybe in designer blue) that will serve you as the ultimate personal tool.
Much smaller and thinner than one of today's hand-held calculators, it will be able to compute, monitor, transact, inform, shop, translate, entertain, remember, analyze, photograph, guide toward destinations, warn of dangers, receive and transmit sound and images, cast votes, and be capable of interfacing with millions of other such boxes and terminals.
The design of this little black box is already under way. Popular technology is hurtling toward a convergence of microscopic sophistication with incredibly literate versatility triggered by instantaneous access and computation. A possible energy source for this little wonder might be the reported breakthrough in room-temperature chemical fusion.
Consider the antecedents: Computers are becoming smaller, with printer, monitor, and keyboard in one unit with software for any conceivable use of language, numerals, or symbols. ``Portable'' is now the operative word.
Wristwatches speak today. They record, remind, entertain, and offer holograms. Cameras, becoming smaller, see the way the human eye sees, but much more.
Telephones don't need wires, just cells and a satellite or two to talk around the world from any corner. Television can now fit in your hand, courtesy of liquid crystal displays. Modems connect people with ideas, questions, answers, and other modems. Software can do, teach, record, and analyze virtually anything.
All this and more will be compacted into less and less space, to perform faster and faster functions with power derived not from a battery but from, say, a tiny, red dot (why not?) until presto, here it is, your personal UltraGraphoFusion Membrane TeleBox for $69.95. It will do literally anything you want.
Recently when I asked a physicist about the probability of such a ``box,'' he said, ``Yes, but you won't carry the thing in your pocket, and it won't be a box. It will be attached to you, or in some way shaped to symmetrically fit some part of your body, like a contact lens.'' The physicist flipped through a copy of a daily newspaper and stopped at a full-page advertisement. He suggested that the ad announced the primitive forerunner of the ``box.''
``Flash Gordon said it would happen,'' proclaimed this ad for a new pocket computer. ``It's the first pocket computer that helps you organize your life as never before. With incredible ease, the [computer] remembers and reminds. Translates and defines. Stores memos, secrets and world times. Even swaps data with your PC.''
The generation that has always known computers and all their applications will probably welcome the evolution of a pocket ``box'' that does it all.
This ``box'' is not for me. Let it not become the favored way. There are still people who love to turn pages and read, hold a pencil and write, and are unafraid to squeak out a clear ``no'' now and then before the altar of technology.