The hallmark of technology has always been that there is no ceiling. Anything that can be done will eventually be done faster, bigger, and better. Milestones once thought to be the penultimate achievement in expansion, are now just footnotes in human history.
The key point here is not that it’s some rat race to outrun everything we’ve already done, but that we are always trying to expand the capabilities of technology.
Nowhere is this more true than in information technology. In the earliest years of the internet we were content to send simple text-only communications, view websites that were largely text-only in nature, and occasionally share very small files.
Today that has changed. We send massive emails to large groups, push streaming video out to millions of subscribers, and work on shared files from locations all over the globe. Individual users store thousands of songs and photos, view multiple media simultaneously, and create professional-quality documents. Reaching this type of speed, capacity, and power takes a multi-pronged development of the systems that deliver the information, and a lagging behind of any one segment can bottleneck the whole process. Likewise, an amplification of capabilities in one branch forces the others to follow suit. These accelerations are taking place in three main areas.
Processor Speeds Ramped Up
The first thing that must happen for technology to move larger quantities at faster speeds is that the computers must be able to handle it internally. Systems that feature industrial PC boards can process these complex files and have them queued up, ready for transmission to other users. As they transmit out of the host computer, there is an uninterrupted and flawless flow of data that maintains speed and quality on the receiver’s end.
Super-fast (and ever faster) processors soon began to provide data faster than it could be sent elsewhere, choking the system at the next point: the ability to send the data to its next destination.
Cables Pushed Out By Wireless
A limitation on any type of technological development is always the physical infrastructure that it uses. Just as a growing city experiences gridlock when the traffic flow outgrows its roads, data movement is slowed when one generation’s cables attempt to carry the next generation’s large files. Offices were constantly working to update Ethernet cables, switches, and routers, spending large sums of money to achieve a more tolerable level of obsolescence.
The arrival of effective, secure wi-fi has eliminated much of the hard wiring inside buildings, allowing users to access the ultimate transmission cable quickly and efficiently.
Video and Audio Sharpened Up
The first internet videos were grainy, short, and had to be heavily buffered before becoming viewable. The digital video production process was expensive and slow. In time, updated video and audio hardware led to the growth of streaming video, allowing viewers to watch longer, higher-quality videos with fewer clogs and better archiving.
The impact is more than recreational; the relationship between Netflix and Blockbuster is likely to be discussed in business schools for decades to come. And given the impact of high-resolution video on the medical field, lives are being saved with this technology.
A platform that allows worldwide sharing of documents, mobile entertainment, and incredible workplace productivity is truly a unique and important sector of technology. The daily expansion of technological capabilities in data will lead to ever more amazing revolutions as the world’s conversations become faster and more localized. The impact of these amazing systems would not be possible without the technology that drives them–and that is driven by them.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons