America has been a country full of optimism, perseverance, and freedom of ideas and beliefs. The frontier- a mental or physical area where much remains to be done- is a belief that has and still propels and influences America today. The technological frontier is probably the most influenced by the frontier belief. There is always room for better in technology. The technological advancements in the past 50 years outnumber the amount advancements from the beginning of time up to 50 years ago. Technological advancements have made it easier to for humans to live and adapt to their universe. Technology has expanded exponentially from the beginning of time until the 90’s. In the 90’s technological advancements have taken off at a higher exponential rate. For every frontier that appears to be complete, a new frontier has opened up and is unsolved. The frontier consists of branches that have branches themselves, resembling a tree. The frontier is far from ending, if there is an ending. During this rapid technological advancement period where we are trying to fulfill that long-term, near perfect technology, there have been short-term constraints in technology that have and will continue to open new branches in technology.
Engineers have been trained to discover new technologies that enhance human life by designing new products and things that make life easier and safer for everyone. Engineers are obligated to use their skills, intelligence and apply their knowledge to promote human welfare. An example of this has been the advancement of communications. Instead of sending a letter to a family member or loved one by pony express, now one can send mail in just seconds through e-mail. This technological advancement makes it easier and better to communicate that is satisfying to humans. These advancements in the long term will have small constraints, but in the short term there’re broader constraints and limits. Email about five years ago could only be accessed through internet service providers such as: AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe, TexasNet, and institution accounts. Now email can be retrieved and sent over the internet without having these big name internet service providers. There are now services like Yahoo, Hotmail, Rocketmail, and Juno that offer free email accounts over the web for any one. Within the past few years, technology has allowed email users to send voice and video emails, which was impossible before. Email still has delays ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes when you send your email over the internet. Ideally, these delays still represents a very fast relay suitable for all practical purposes in email. Email can have more of a real time relay in the future. There is also the possibility of your email not reaching its destination, which we all have experienced at one time. Now we see less and less of our email not reaching our destination with the improvements of transmission lines. Higher bandwidths in these transmission lines allow for higher memory capabilities in our email. Email in the long run will be near a more real time instantaneous speed with the capability of higher memory.
The frontier myth can be seen from the beginning technological advancement of communications. In 1837, while working independently from one another Samuel F. B. Morse and the two British engineers Sir William Cook and Sir Charles Wheatstone developed a method of sending an electronic message over a distance of several miles almost instantaneously. The implications of this development were enormous. For the first time in history, human beings had the means to overcome the obstacles imposed upon communications by vast distances. A “Virtual world” of human communications had just been born that was much smaller and could potentially be much more closely knit together than the “real” world. Though the concept of virtual place and time would not become part of the terminology of human thinking for almost another 150 years, the foundations were laid with this invention. It is significant that during this same period we were making rapid progress in conquering distance and time in the real world with advances in the steam engines, which powered ships and railroad locomotives. America’s telegraph network grew up with and was often found alongside the rapidly developing network of railroad lines that began to tie the various corners of our nation together.
The frontier myth influenced the expansion of communications into another frontier, telecommunications. While working on a device to enable hearing impaired individuals to hear sound in 1877, Alexander Bell developed a communications device that was to eventually be introduced into almost every American home and become available to nearly everyone worldwide. The voice transducer (transmitter and receiver) technology developed by Bell paved the way for electronic recording of sounds, music, and voice. In the 1990’s the technological frontier opened doors to digital phones smaller than the human hand. Phones now have been developed (not marketed yet) that one can see the other person that they are talking to. In the long run these phones will become clearer, lower delays, and less expensive. In the short run, there are still a lot of imperfections. Digital phones can only operate in certain regions where digital networks are in accessible and there must be low electromagnetic interference. For example, my Sprint PCS digital phone won’t work in St. Mary’s academic library due to the build up of interference in the building. When it does sometimes work, the conversation on the phone is very choppy will cut off the connection in the middle of conversation. Digital services currently are only accessible near and around major cities. These service areas are expanding further and further out giving access to a lot more people. The size of these digital phones are getting smaller, less means more. Smaller chips and circuit allow for such small phone designs.
In 1991, two major commercial events took place, which put the power of CD-ROM storage technology and computer based search engines in the hands of ordinary people. World Library Incorporated produced a fully searchable CD-ROM containing 450 (later expanded to 953) classical works of literature and historic documents. This demonstrated the power of the CD-ROM to take the text content of several bookshelves and concentrate it on one small piece of plastic. The other product was the electronic version of Grolier’s Encyclopedia that actually contained a few pictures in addition to text. Both products were originally marketed through the Bureau of Electronic Publishing, a distributor of CD-ROM products. Many saw this as the ultimate in personal data storage and retrieval. They didn’t have to wait long for much greater things in the world of multimedia. Though both titles sold for several hundred dollars originally, by 1994 they could be found at electronic flea markets selling for a dollar or two each. Technological advances have occurred so rapidly in this area that both the Multimedia PC standard and the Macintosh multimedia system extensions had made these two products obsolete in a couple of years. CD-ROM products have short-term limits as well. The ROM in CD-ROM stands for Read Only Memory. Data could only be read from the CDs. Data couldn’t be saved onto the CDs. New technology allows us to save and store data on CDs using CD burners. Now we can make our own audio CDs on our computers by saving song files onto the CD. These song files are huge, and it takes about 10-20 minutes to save a huge file onto the CD. CDs are limited to store about 650 Megabytes of memory-1 megabyte equals 1,000,000 bytes-. The use of CDs has created a piracy of billion dollars of illegal software. I can borrow my friends software applications that he has on CD and I can install that software on my computer without purchasing the software from the company who developed the CD software. When I save this software on my computer, I can now burn the software onto a blank CD and make many copies and sell the software at a cheaper price to other people.
Working together, Motorola, Apple, and IBM developed the Power PC RISC processor to be used in Apple Computer’s new Power Macintosh. The product line currently includes the 601, 603, and 604 microprocessors. These chips are designed around a reduced instruction set machine language, intended to produce more compact, faster executing code. Devotees of the Intel CISC chip architecture heartily disagree with this assertion. The result is that the consumer benefits from the intense competition to develop a better computer chip. Currently this type of competition for the “better chip” can be seen in a computer store magazine. Every month there is a new computer that is faster, more compact and loaded with memory making the computers from 2 months ago obsolete. Computer advancement has asked the question; can computers keep speeding up forever? Within time computer speed will reach their limit, but different computers will be designed for multi-particular purposes. Every year Intel releases their new Pentium processors. Now Intel has released their Pentium III processors. These processors can only produce a processor speed of 650 MHz-1 MHz equal 1,000,000 bytes of information/second-. Only certain sound and audio cards can be utilized with the new Pentium processors. New processors that are developed make old model sound and audio cards obsolete. These processors also have limited amount of RAM-readable accessed memory-usually between 64-256 Mbytes.
The technological movement is a prime example of the frontier belief that “more is better.” You can look in a newspaper, magazine, or on television and see for your self how the technological frontier in the 90’s has been influenced by the belief “where much remains to be done.” If America weren’t following the frontier belief, then we would have been satisfied with the pony express, Model-T Fords, rotary phone, black and white television, Atari video games, and etc. The frontier myth accelerates the inquiring into the unknown that has led to such a technologically advanced America. America has an image to surpass all other nations in every category you can think of. Whenever a new technological idea or application is developed, countless new doors are opened up leading Americans to solve these unknowns or to improvise on the applications. In the 1990’s, technological advancements are happening at such a faster rate as a result from the frontier myth of “more is better.”