Things were very different 20 years ago. There was no Internet and no e-mail. The first text message had yet to be sent. Many European countries were still opening enormous transmission towers to put the finishing touches to their national television networks. Go back another 20 years, just as the first push-button phones were hitting the market, and a single computer would have taken up an entire living room should anyone have ever considered installing one. International phone calls were so expensive that people often timed them with stopwatches. The world has shrunk considerably since those days. E-mailing a research report or chatting online has become second nature. We can collaborate with someone on the other side of the world almost as easily as we can with a person two streets away. Companies use the Internet to outsource their accounts to India. Photographers sell their work all over the world. And if we want to, we can listen to Japanese radio in our European offices. Much of this book was written far away from the experts we interviewed. Yet in all the hundreds of phone calls, e-mails, and video sessions that went into its production, nobody paid the slightest thought to the physical distances separating us. As the world shrinks, the way we use our communication networks intensifies. The volume of data we send is doubling every year, and the capacity of computer networks and telephone cables inexorably increases, too. Communication technology continues to improve at a rapid rate. And with each doubling of capacity, the price of transporting information halves. Things will no doubt look very different again 20 years from now. By that time, for instance, regions that currently lack Internet access will have been connected. The first signs of these changes are already apparent. Africans are playing an important part in computer projects set up around the world by volunteers. They are involved, for instance, in developing Linux—the open-source alternative to the Windows and Macintosh operating systems. Projects like this give programmers the chance to take part in global technological developments.
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