Looking for What’s Next

Emerging technology like blockchain — bitcoin’s backbone — are on the horizon

by / July 20, 2015

I remember the first time I browsed the Web. It was probably 1996, and I was managing editor for a magazine that covered laser vision correction and other technology for eye doctors. I had interviewed a noted ophthalmologist from the Tulane University School of Medicine, and after finishing my questions, I hung up the phone before getting a couple of basic pieces of information: the proper spelling of her name and her official title.

This doesn’t sound like a problem now, but it was to me back then. It usually meant calling back the interviewee to verify — in this case a busy eye surgeon who I’d spent several weeks chasing with repeated voicemails. I was about to start dialing again when my boss pointed to the Netscape icon on the screen of my trusty IBM 486 and said, “Try this.”

I opened the browser, typed in a mysterious string of w’s, colons, slashes, etc., and actually reached the university’s Web page. Once I got there, I clicked on the phonebook icon and there was her info — name, title, everything I needed. It took me less than five minutes.

In the history of Internet-powered transformation, my first experience falls toward the minor side of the scale. But in a very real way, it reshaped how I and others in the publishing business worked. Lots of basic research no longer required a phone call or trip to the library or courthouse. The Web made it possible to work faster and include a level of depth in our daily reporting that would have been nearly impossible before.

Ultimately, of course, the Web made most of the world’s knowledge available with just a few keystrokes. And through e-commerce, streaming video, social networks and hundreds of other advances, the Internet changed our lives forever.

This issue is dedicated to what’s next.

Will a new generation of high-bandwidth Web applications being developed by the Global Environment for Network Innovations be just as revolutionary someday?

What about the blockchain? Will the decentralized ledger that’s the backbone for bitcoin transactions eventually be the key that unlocks secure electronic voting, simplified tax collection and safer contracting?

In this issue, we look at these and other emerging technologies and try to get a sense of how they might impact the mission of government and the communities where we live. Twenty years ago, I had no idea how game-changing that fuzzy icon on my clunky CRT screen would be. And something new is always around the corner.

Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.