NetSlate: A dream future for human knowledge.

Google recently swung a deal where old orphaned works would be scanned onto its servers and made accessible via the Internet. This could make millions of previously out-of-print works instantly accessible to the entire world via web browsers. The works would comprise every type of creative work man produces, from the written word to recordings and films. This may not sound like an Earth-shaking deal to many, but it stirred up an old dream I had about the future of human knowledge on planet Earth.

In the future, I always saw the world using futuristic NetSlates. What is a NetSlate? Imagine this. Your personal NetSlate can run for weeks without charging. It has virtually unlimited bandwidth for displaying any type of media. The ultra-high-speed connection is bi-directional allowing interaction between an unlimited number of these devices in real-time. It has an ultra-high resolution, wide-color gamut display. It has incredible audio capabilities built-in, too. Perhaps it can even project full-color imagery or interfaces in 3 dimensions when it lies flat on a table surface. The device is incredibly thin, perhaps even flexible and weighs next-to-nothing.

Sounds great right? It’s like a cross between the most powerful supercomputers, the best graphics workstations, and the lightest, thinnest, tablet PC’s available today. Think nuclear-powered Kindle on steroids. Also, think unlimited cheap wireless bandwidth. Ok got the picture?

Now, imagine literally everyone can own a NetSlate because they are dirt cheap. In fact, they’re free in many cases because advertisers give ad-supported versions away constantly. They all display basically the same information and media. Our NetSlates are totally compatible with one another because they all feed from open format, world-standard files stored on insanely fast servers connected to the wireless super Internet of the future. This is an idealist future I’ve babbled on about for a couple of decades to my wife, family, and friends (started thinking about this device back in the pre-WWW “CompuServe” days). I believe this is where we are finally headed now.

For proof, simply put that Google media-scanning deal in the early development context of that not-too-distant future vision of NetSlates. Everyone owns a NetSlate and all the information ever created by mankind is available instantly to all  of us. These early scanning efforts and other efforts by Google to put literally everything online are the baby steps needed to reach that admittedly idealistic NetSlate future.

In fact, the Amazon Kindle could be seen as another of those baby steps toward ubiquitous access to knowledge and the ideal of a futuristic NetSlate. Amazon has 250,000 publications available for the Kindle. Imagine if the device were also a high-speed, non-DRM, unlimited-bandwidth, browsing device pointed directly at Google’s scanned-information storehouses. Adding millions more creative works which are currently out of print would make the Kindle vastly more useful than it already is. If Google and Amazon were to combine their future efforts and stick to open worldwide standards, the significance of their separate baby steps would become even more important toward the long-term future of human knowledge.

Imagine a future where bulky books, magazines, cables, and plastic discs are replaced by slim personal devices with always-on, unlimited, wireless connections to limitless media and information. Imagine there literally being no limitations to the information you could explore on your device. The barriers between us would fade as we all gain equal access to all knowledge and information.  Now, that’s an exciting future, right? We will absolutely have the technology to do all of this in the not-too-distant future.

Unfortunately, my NetSlate dream will likely never fully happen. Why not? Didn’t I just say we’ll have the technology? Yes, I did. But technology won’t be the limiting aspect of this ideal future. The NetSlate future won’t happen because we’ll never be given access to the total of human knowledge, no matter how far technology progresses. Knowledge is power, so it just won’t happen.

The rich and powerful control the masses by throttling information. They monitor and control the sources, the quantity, the quality, and the accessibility of all information and that is largely how they maintain their power over the middle and lower classes who far out-number them. The NSA and HSA now routinely monitor all information flow, thanks to the laws passed by the scared old men sitting in Congress. Their regular efforts to regulate the Internet are another demonstration. If literally everyone had access to all human knowledge, the most powerful would lose one of their best tools in controlling us. So they will do their best to prevent this ideal future from ever happening. Just watch the news and you’ll see it.

For example, those same scared old men in Congress created laws which legalize the extortion of children and grandmothers by rich media companies (like Sony, EMI, Universal, Warner, Disney, Viacom, and others). Those rich media companies now get insane amounts of control over what we do with the products we purchase from them. They take gestapo-like actions against completely innocent individuals and then are not held accountable for their extortion attempts. They aren’t even required to provide proof that a law was broken before they begin their extortion and harassment process. In this way, they have more power than the local police.

These rich media companies amuse themselves by bankrupting poor college students who didn’t cost them a dime of profit because they couldn’t afford the media product to begin with. This tactic often takes a potential college graduate, who would have later purchased products from them for decades, bankrupts them, and puts them out on the street. So, in place of a high-earning college graduate, the rich media companies create a college dropout who hates them and will never purchase another product from them. Why would these media companies do something so stupid? It’s all about control. They are blinded by their hunger for power and control, so they shoot themselves in the foot over and over.

Yes, the technology will someday exist to create NetSlates we can all afford. The technology will someday exist to create high-bandwidth wireless connections for those NetSlates which will allow all of us equal access to vast stores of online information. The question is: What information will be available to us when that full-blown technology finally arrives? That’s where the bright future of the “NetSlates ideology” falls apart.

It will be the rich and powerful who will kill my dream of “widespread access to all knowledge via NetSlates.” It will be the evil efforts of greedy media companies which will kill our future ubiquitous wireless knowledge and media access. Yes, we may get some useful subset of my NetSlate dream, but we will never realize its full-blown potential. We will never be allowed full access to all of human knowledge and creative works. That is the bittersweet reality we live in. Those in power will always control our access.

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