TWENTY-THREE years ago, I got hold of my very first personal computer-a 4.5 Mhz 8088 IBM-compatible PC my younger brother sent home from the Middle East. If we consider that the average processor speed today is 2.0 Ghz, that first PC could well be "prehistoric" by today's standards. In the "Jurassic period" of the personal computer, however, my PC's device features were top-of-the-line: a 16-color graphics adapter and monitor, a 30-megabyte hard disk, 1 megabyte of random access memory (RAM), and two floppy disk drives.
You turn the machine on and it will count from 0 to 640 for a minute or so before "booting up," the final result of which was a blinking dash at the upper left hand corner of a black screen. This blinker was called the "DOS prompt", the machine's way of asking, "Please type your command and I will obey." Windows as an operating system would still be many years into the future, and the mouse was just a pesky rodent you did not care about, much less hold in the palm of your hand.
I leave the PC's evolutionary details to technology historians. Suffice to say, that first PC took me down technology lane, and opened my world to new-fangled notions. I took the significant first step down the digital road, pioneering the use of desktop publishing technology in Bacolod City. And as the personal computer progressed, I, too, moved on from that first DTP business venture, to other businesses involving more complex industrial and automation applications.
The whole technological experience has completely transformed the way I look at social development. Being involved in developing systems for mainstream industry, and seeing the effect of technological breakthroughs on manufacturing processes, I cannot help but see and appreciate the same impact on society as a whole.
For instance, 15 years ago when I'd first surf the Internet, I was overwhelmed by the facility potentials of the information highway. Sharing the excitement with a client, I told her it would not be long before job orders for my printing business would be sent by electronic mail, edited and returned the same way for approval, and finally dispatched back for implementation. She gave me a strange look, as if I was a character straight out of Star Trek talking about peace with Klingons.
Today, this is run of the mill activity for the printing industry. Using dedicated telephone lines, staffs of national broadsheets send laid-out files to satellite presses in other regions where exact copies of the paper are produced, eliminating the need to deliver by airfreight.
Thus, Visayas and Mindanao readers get to read the day's top stories at the same time their Metro Manila and Luzon countrymen do, even during a typhoon when aircraft flights are suspended.
Most of the news, pictures and ads you see in Sun.Star Bacolod are sent by e-mail. In fact, I send my columns from wherever I am, whether in a Manila hotel, a banana plantation in Bukidnon, a coffee shop in Davao, or at a tuna processing plant in General Santos City, for as long as I get a decent cellular phone signal.
Indeed, technology has changed my way of life, as it has changed that of a lot of people like me who work on the go. My notebook PC-a veritable virtual office-has unshackled me from the confines of the physical office, enabling me to go about my job on the road without losing touch with all the information I need to make decisions: While driving down some highway, I receive an inquiry over my mobile phone; I drop by a roadside café to get technical information from my principal's intranet website, and send out a price quotation via e-mail.
While sipping coffee I might as well read online editions of Sun.Star and the major national dailies, check the foreign exchange rate for the day, read my credit card bills, and pay my accounts through my bank's internet banking facility. I might even check my Facebook account to see if someone had commented on my columns, or if long-lost friends had found me at all. Before hitting the road again, I might leave an off-line message at Yahoo Messenger to my teen son reminding him to study well and not to stay up too late, or I'll deny him Internet connection rights in our home network. All in less than an hour's work.
It will not come as a surprise, therefore, if technology-ushered trends in all aspects of social development will appear to me as matters of course. In fact, they are my springs of optimism and confidence for a brighter future for this country. It is quite unfortunate, though, that there is quite a lot of misinformed hostility to new ideas that could improve our lives. More often than not, this resistance is born of fear of technology, and unwillingness to learn. On the other hand, I console myself with the thought that history is replete with examples of how the most vehement opposition to change came from those least knowledgeable.
My point is that there is a whole new generation out there that was born and raised in the ways of information technology. If the fax machine contributed much to the downfall of Marcos by opening avenues to uncontrolled information, the cellular phone became the mobilization medium for the mass action that took Estrada down from power. Today, we are seeing public opinion formed in blogs and social network sites in the world-wide web. If I may fearlessly venture, we might be seeing the beginnings of a "virtual public," a society that seeks redress from government through strong public opinion in the electronic Internet medium.
Indeed, we are at the signpost of a new road-the information highway. We can fasten our seatbelts and drive down it, or stay parked in the Dark Ages.