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Donald Browne
professor of communication studies at the University of Minnesota

The next two decades are apt to see a host of important developments in the technologies of information. Voice-activated computers are likely to become commonplace, at least in industrialized societies. In such societies, TV viewers should be able to access hundreds, if not thousands, of channels containing a wide variety of information and entertainment. Furthermore, it will be become simpler for individuals to pre-select what they wish to read and watch, to interact with much of that material, and to do so on their own individually-created schedules. Cellphones will play a larger and larger role in that scenario. And government regulation of media content will shrink even more rapidly than it has done during the past two decades.

The major challenges represented by those developments will be:

  1. Their effects on the ‘digital divide’ between rich and poor, with the possibility that access to ‘basic’ versions of the new technologies will become a universal (and possibly state-subsidized) right.
  2. Their possible creation of a citizenry that is heavily fractionated in its choice of mediated material, making it easier and/or more difficult for political and economic forces to attain their goals.
  3. The continuing growth of ‘culture wars,’ in which individuals and groups with deeply-held religious, environmental and societal convictions will find themselves increasingly embattled, and will seek to retaliate.

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