(This “Tides and Trends” column was published in the Beach Cities Newspapers and The Argonaut on May 20th, 1981)


Technologically and practically, newspapers (printed on paper) may be obsolete in ten years. The present decade will be more significant in changing our home life than television itself was for those alive in the ’50s or radio a generation earlier.

Most homes will have coaxial cable by 1985, and from there, the sky’s the limit — you’ll be able to “talk back” to your television set, and tune in almost anything you want, from your weekly local newspaper to an article you select from the Encyclopedia Britannica — all for a price of course.

It took hardly a decade for radio to sweep into nearly every home in the country, and that happened even in the years of the Great Depresion. When I was a small boy in those Depression years, television technology had been around for a while, but when I saw a photograph in Life magazine of an actual television set, the possibility of ever owning one seemed as remote as landing a space ship on the moon.

Technological advances sit around for a while — a very short while — as expensive toys, and then, whammo! Everybody has them.

And who would have dreamed even ten years ago that a small weekly newspaper could afford the technology that permits me to sit at a VDT (video display terminal, like a small TV screen) and type these words, have them appear on the screen before me, change and revise them, and command the machine, through a photographic process (already obsolete) to set the type? In three or four years I’ll be doing that at home, if I wish. I won’t even have to come into the office.

But the real revolution is that within ten years you’ll probably be able to get this weekly newspaper on your TV screen, and decide from an index whether you even want to read “Tides and Trends.”

Everything is happening at once. There is so much new technology available that no one is certain just how all this will come about — exactly which systems you will have in your home, but your present TV set, or the next one you buy, will be the core of it all. And you’ll probably have cable, if you don’t already, and there will be some other options open, such as the telephone lines and satellite communications.

Hardly a day passes without some story in the big downtown dailies about either “teletext” or “videotext.” Teletext, as the definition seems to be emerging, involves your being able to receive through your present television set, either on a channel dedicated to such presentations or in the “black” space “between the pictures,” static word and graphic presentations. Videotext is used mostly to describe a system whereby you can, through coaxial cable or telephone lines, select what you want, and answer back — vote, write a letter to the editor, answer a university extension test question, even update the news you are reading with your own eyewitness account — the possibilities are endless.

The headlines in some of the technological magazines are fascinating — “Business Week and all McGraw Hill Publications to Go Online with Mead Data Central,” “Encyclopedia Britannica Signs to Go Online with Mead Data Central,” “New York Times Full Text to be Up and Running,” “Reader’s Digest Acquires Source Telecomputing,” “Field-Zenith to use ‘Information Kiosks'” — and that’s only the beginning.