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The Technology Gap

Alvin Toffler wrote about the knowledge explosion and "future shock" in 1970. He predicted these two phenomena would have a significant impact on the human race, and he was right. Today we are witnessing tremendous developments in both knowledge and technology. As we depart the industrial era and enter the information and service era of society, we see an ever-widening knowledge and technology gap.

One example of this gap is the popular facsimile machine. Sales of fax machines are expected to triple in the next year. People who have recently begun faxing have done so because they view this device as a more efficient way to transmit information than previous methods. But even though it is an important technological development, the fax machine is already obsolete. Technology exists today that is far superior to the fax machine--but most people are unaware of it.

Perhaps a careful examination of information transfer is in order. Let's assume that my objective is to send you a one-page letter containing text and a picture of my office. Previously, my best option was to use the postal service. I could usually expect one- or two-day service, with the always-present possibility that it might never get to you. In recent years, physical transmission of documents was greatly improved with the advent of overnight couriers such as Federal Express. These services tend to be expensive, but they are dependable and offer guaranteed delivery.

The fax machine is a technological advance over postal and overnight services, in that the documents are never sent physically, but rather translated into electronic impulses that are instantly transmitted via phone lines. However, all three of these methods of information transfer lack an important feature--the ability for you to manipulate the data and send it back to me. If instead of a one-page letter with a picture, I wanted to send you a 20-page newsletter, I could do this by any of the three methods. But once you received the newsletter, you would only be able to pencil in your changes and return it to me. There is a better way: electronic mail or "E-mail" .

For a small annual fee, I can subscribe to one of several E-mail services and have a "mailbox" . In the August 1989 issue of PC Magazine, the editor's choice was MCI Mail. Lotus Express is a software program designed specifically to manage your MCI mailbox. Of course, I need a telephone modem to communicate with MCI. Once everything is installed, I have some powerful tools available on my Compaq 386/S computer. Every time I turn on the computer, Express is loaded into memory; the modem calls MCI and checks for new mail. If I am working in another application, a beep informs me that there is unread mail in my mailbox. Without leaving the WordStar word-processing program, I can call up the Express menu and read new mail. Where E-mail is different from faxing is that the documents in my mailbox are not necessarily only text. You can attach virtually any kind of file to an MCI message, and that attachment can be manipulated with my computer. So if we both used WordStar 2000, I could attach a number of documents that you could simply save in your WS2000 subdirectory, edit, and begin using immediately. If we both used Dentofacial Planner to predict our orthognathic surgical cases, I could send you an MCI message with some pertinent comments regarding an attached digitized tracing, and you could do your surgical prediction and send it back to me.

Since MCI allows the creation of "mailing lists" , I could also send my tracing to a group of surgical experts around the world and get their opinions in a matter of hours. The system also allows transmission to other E-mail services such as AT&T and Compuserve. I can transmit directly to a fax machine, or send a telex around the world.

Orthodontists offer only one product to their patients, and that is service. To deliver state-of-the-art service requires up-to-date information on what is known today. Keeping up with technological advances is a never-ending and time-consuming task, but there is no doubt in my mind that the orthodontic office that works the hardest to keep abreast of new knowledge and technology will be the most successful.


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