Taking a hit from The Big Pipe.

Tuesday, December 14th, 1999

It’s only in these waning weeks of the 20th century that I feel as if I’m really beginning to experience The World Of The Future that was promised us in science museums back in the sixties. This is not my beautiful self-cleaning house, this is not my personal rocket pack, heck, this isn’t even my picturephone, which Bell Telephone (who?) guaranteed us by 1970.
But I did get Mindspring to hook our beautiful non-self-cleaning house up to ADSL, and in the past few days, my laptop is starting to resemble the flat-pad communications device seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now, using the same phone line we talk on, data flows inward at T1 speeds, and flows out of here, at, well, a very respectable pace.
Bandwidth, it’s so damn liberating. The power to squander bits! The power to connect to sounds and pictures from far away! The power to do simple things, like enjoy programs that local public radio WABE neglects to carry (like Sunday Weekend Edition orThis American Life) just by tuning in my college radio station in Athens, Ohio (as a bonus, I get the local newscasts from there, enjoying the illusion that I’m not living in a traffic-choked metropolis.) Want Fox Sports? Wham, it’s there, without cable TV.
Care to view a movie trailer for a film that won’t be released for six months? The stream of pictures cascades into your machine faster than you can watch. Business news and real-time sports? Get back, stuff is dumping into to your PC from one fat pipe indeed.
Yeah, it’s still a little pixelated now and again, and occasionally the parade of data packets gets mixed up, creating colorful mosaics before my eyes, but in general, it feels like the realization of what multimedia idealists have always promised for the internet "experience." Bloated web pages slam onto my screen, near-instantaneously-most of the time. My email now tolerates those huge, bizarre attachments people insist on forwarding to all their friends and acquaintances.
But my favorite part of it must be the ability to surf radio stations and TV channels, and to download large MP3 music files, almost without thinking (which, of course, describes my usual online brain state.)
Functional streaming audio and video lets Atlanta media outlets become ambassadors to the planet at large-I’ve walked into offices in Oregon where Mac-bound designers were listening to 99X ("you mean you can hear it on the radio in Atlanta?") , and The Weather Channel, in Vinings, pumps out as much web-based data as it does actual cable channel programming. Then there’s CNN. After a bunch of experiments with websites complex and simple, the CNN Interactive folk deserve credit for refined, sophisticated Content You Can Count On, offering big handfuls of fresh, just-cooked news product in all the popular multimedia formats-QuickTime, RealPlayer, and some sort of Bill Gates kludge. The pages are simpler, clean, understandable, and for me, a great way to watch CNN the way without the happy talk peripheral stuff (like commercials.)
Yes, it’s another honeymoon with technology for me. And yes, fickle critic that I am, when it breaks down, I’ll label it as a technological Frankenstein.
But this week, it hasn’t broken down. Cool.