Technology's strong message the future is now

March 08, 1995|By Andrew Leckey

The future is now. That's being driven forcefully home in 1995 as technology commands more and more attention on the nation's magazine covers and in its news headlines.

Intrigue! We've seen an Internet bandit apprehended after capturing 20,000 live credit card numbers. Though such attacks usually aren't against home computers, always take steps to guard your personal data.

Power! A federal judge struck down an antitrust settlement against techno-giant Microsoft Corp. because the agreement was too soft.

Gambling! Investor portfolios and mutual fund holdings increasingly live or die by flashy technology stocks, known for volatility. Be careful not to go overboard in your own portfolio.

Conflict! The recent trade agreement with China, designed to end piracy of U.S. computer software and other items, at the last minute averted a trade war. Men walking on the moon constituted "fun" technology, but many Americans are overwhelmed by this recent techno-onslaught closer to home. Times truly are changing.

My own experiences this year underscore some irreversible trends.

I've appeared on CNN, PBS and a variety of other broadcast and cable television outlets, as well as on syndicated and local radio.

What's different is the additional opportunity to be a guest on computer on-line service forums. There's nothing quite like the hourlong rush of questions and wild typing of responses in this unique one-on-one exchange. (And, I don't recall being asked a question on TV from anyone calling himself "Moondoggy," as was the case on-line.)

Most on-line audience members present a string of carefully thought-out queries about the topic, which often is how to invest successfully for the future. But cyberspace also has many "out there" folks who gleefully float in and spout the absurd. You never know what to expect. Unpredictability draws an audience.

Another unique treatment came from financial news organization Bloomberg L.P., which within 45 minutes not only did television and radio interviews, a wire story and a recording of my voice to be played on a toll-free phone number, but produced for computer terminals a multimedia report with slide photographs of me, along with my voice and graphics to fit my words.

We'll see information take a variety of forms, many we can't yet imagine. Many Americans fear that technology will take over our lives.

In a drama certain to spawn books and a movie, convicted computer felon Kevin Mitnick misused telephone and cellular networks to vandalize government, corporate and university computer systems and the Internet. His pursuit by the FBI and security expert Tsutomu Shimomura would make Columbo proud.

If you use a home or work computer, choose a secret password that can't be found in a dictionary so no one can guess it. Don't give out your password to anyone, change it regularly and don't have the password written down somewhere near your computer.

Regarding software giant Microsoft, the Justice Department was embarrassed by federal District Judge Stanley Sporkin's ruling that its proposed settlement failed to deal with many competitive issues. Ironically, Microsoft and the "crusading" Justice Department joined forces to ask an appeals court to overrule Judge Sporkin.

The issue of technology stocks, especially in fund portfolios, is crucial. Many managers loaded up to ride tech's recent strong performance. Realize this sector is capable of hits on bad news. Know how much money you have in tech. Be selective, diversified and patient.

Even much-admired Motorola Inc. took a hit when it wound up with too many cellular phones in inventory. Many investors considered that unexpected price dip a buying opportunity.

They see the future as the exciting, if unpredictable, adventure that it really is.

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