These networks form the key infrastructure of the 21st century, as critical to business success and national economic development as the railroads were in [Samuel] Morse's era.
(Karraker, 4 @ 343)
Yes, access to a high speed, national or international computer network will significantly alter the way in which professionals will work in the coming decade. Tomorrow's CYBERARIAN might respond to a user query by sending out knowbots (Dertouzos, 1991, p 35) and gophers along the NREN and along what remains of older networks. When the National Network connects every household by optical fiber, there will be no mechanical advantage in having an information professional conduct an information search. The role of the information professional will shift to emphasize information-hunting strategy. There are already too many ways to search for information. The user of the future will be technologically literate and may merely need the strategic advice of a professional such as an cyberarian who is familiar with this multitude of information databases and services which can be searched, as well as the third-party utilities such as knowbots and gophers that can be used to search them.
If Mark Weiser's vision of ubiquitous computing is realized in the next decade, it will solve a problem with the `superhighway' analogy of networking: the emphasis is on the data path and the data cargo, rather than the receiving human being who will ultimately use this information. ``By pushing computers into the background, embodied virtuality will make individuals more aware of the people on the other ends of their computer links'' (Weiser, 1991 p.75). It will also change the way everyone--including information professionals--live. Earlier this quarter, we learned that Plato objected to the invention of writing because it would ruin people's memories. Imagine Plato's opinion of this example of ubiquitous computing at work:
...obtaining information will be almost trivial: `Who made that dress? Are there any more in the store? What was the name of the designer of that suit I liked last week?' The computing environment knows the suit you looked at for a long time last week because it knows both of your locations, and it can retroactively find the designer's name even though that information did not interest you at the time (Weiser, 1991 p75).
Plato must be turning in his grave over this...but we need a way to deal with today's information overload, and the greater avalanche we can expect in the coming decade. In the Renaissance of the 1990's, one strives to learn methods of learning and information gathering and processing. It is understood that it is no longer possible for one person to know everything. In the Library of the Weiser's future, each item will contain a small computer that can broadcast its location over the network-- ``Tabs in library catalogues can make active maps to any book and guide searchers to it, even if it is off the shelf, left on a table by the last reader'' (Weiser, 1991 p.66). Although such measures might seem like overkill in the Twentieth Century, they will become a necessary tool in the kit of tomorrow's information professional. Professionals will be expected to keep track of the information explosion, even though ``the amount of information continues to explode, doubling every six months in some disciplines'' (Gore, 1991 p110).