When I was a child, I always wanted a talking computer.
Like other grade-school kids growing up in the late 1960s, I glimpsed my first visions of a PC world from George Jetson and the astronaut family of Lost in Space. I later recoiled in horror after watching the vindictive computer Hal kill off one of his space station commanders in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
But my dreams were much simpler than running errands in a flying Jetsonian car or reprogramming a miscreant Hal. I just wanted one of those talking computers. You know, the ones where you provide a verbal question and your answer is instantly spoken, after a brief dazzle of flashing neon lights.
I wanted a computer genie who would grant my every wish, write my school papers, feed me dinner, confide in me like a best friend, show me the universe outside my bedroom walls. It all could be done with a rectangular box and a TV-sized monitor.
We almost had that in the 1990s. Someone must have rubbed the right lamp.
For a few shining years, our lives were going to be better with technology, as advertisements from the 1950s once told us. And in many cases, they have been, even though the Internet has yet to talk back to us.
We at Plastics News weighed in on the subject as early as 1996. As the Internet era began to boom, we wrote of its coming advances as a marketing and information medium. We wrote that everyone would need to spend the $5,000-$10,000 on a Web site, even though few molders had done so at the time.
And we wrote that all Web sites in the world would one day be linked, like those beaming children joining arms in those old ``I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing'' Coke ads. The Internet would make us one.
In many ways, we all have our talking computers that link the world. Eight years ago, though, we did not quite understand what that world would be like today.
In the pages of Plastics News, we questioned the value of spending money on either a layered Web site or an attached Intranet system for our companies. Today, we no longer question either; if you don't have it, you don't have much of a business. Period. End of story.
Our publication wondered what limits would be placed on what the Web was going to do. We didn't always see beyond the exchange of information or the marketing of a company. We viewed it as a company brochure in online form, not much more than another way to promote a business.
We scarcely imagined the depth of buying we do now by computer, the level of product-development resourcing and even the machinery supervision now possible. While fax machines and telephones are still around, their use has been downsized. Have we yet found those limits for the Internet?
And we did our part to acknowledge the bust cycle that accompanied the boom. Sure, we named names and took prisoners. We chronicled the decline and fall of Internet civilization, as dominoes fell for many Internet-based companies in the early part of this decade.
A lot of get-rich-quick stories for Internet entrepreneurs ended with a crash and a burn. Companies that wanted to sell products for supplier companies initially landed in the pages of Plastics News. But they found that most suppliers wanted to deal directly with customers themselves, thank you very much, and not through an outside service.
And we wrote of the other unforeseen consequences: That linking of arms over the Web led to a globalized economy. And that led to more work going offshore, when a design firm in India can just as easily send back drawings and a toolmaker in China can communicate via cyberspace.
The electronic highway also led to a bidding process where your current price quote is posted and matched in seconds via competitors. And it led to resin buying without the need for personal visits or negotiating over lunch. A click and a drag will often get you to the same place.
Our computer genies have speeded up the pace of work but not the elimination of paperwork. We might have more computer-generated documents now than we know what to do with.
The Internet has been blamed for the recent recession, where the bursting of the Internet bubble pricked our consumer confidence. It has been blamed for longer work hours, a cutback in travel budgets and even a surge in sales of Visine for our blurry, PC-strained eyes.
But while we've thrown our darts, we might have missed the bull's-eye. The fact is, the Internet is so ingrained in our consciousness that we barely consider life without it anymore. While the effects can be debated, one fact is no longer up for contention: The Internet is only going to keep changing our lives...mainly for the better.
That old rascal Hal the computer might no longer sing ``Daisy Bell (A Bicycle Built for Two)'' on board a space station. My computer has not yet talked to me, although I'd love to start a conversation with it about PC overwork. But if I did that, my PC might get other ideas and run off to start a labor union.
Now that I've fulfilled my dreams and have my computer genie, I'm setting my sites on that flying car.
Joseph Pryweller is an Akron, Ohio-based senior reporter for Plastics News.