Wireless New Year

A few things to watch out for in the new year.

Wilmington NC – [Click the LISTEN button to hear Wally's commentary.]

Well it's New Year's time again and so the job of the commentator is to make either predictions or resolutions. I'll take predictions for three.

Hi, I'm Wally Bock and in this Postcard from the Digital Age, we're going to chat about things you should watch for in the year 2004.

Watch for your telephone service options to improve. The big news these days is about phone number portability, keeping your number when you move from one telephone service provider to another. No matter what you read, that's going to take a while to happen.

First, the different phone companies will have to learn to play nice with each other. We need my third grade teacher, Mrs. McKinley to straighten them out, but she's not available, so expect it to take a while before they cooperate. Once they start working with each other, it will still take time to deal with the technical issues.

So, don't worry about that. Instead, watch for a couple of more immediate changes that will affect you.

More and more, people are giving up their landline phones in favor of wireless phones. Watch for your friends and family and maybe you to do just that in 2004.

Expect the phone companies to offer more flat-rate billing plans and to include local and most long distance in a single flat rate. Today's phone billing for most folks is like being nibbled to death by ducks. It's time for that to change.

Watch for people to take more control of what they see on TV and listen to on the radio. We've been slave to the broadcasters for too long. We're not going to take it anymore.

The rebellion started when cable TV gave us hundreds of special interest channels we could choose from. Then came VCRs, and if you could learn to make the taping feature work you could watch your favorite show whenever you chose.

Now Tivo and I-control let you watch your favorite shows when you choose. They'll even let you pause a live show while you see who's at the door.

That's not all. Satellite radio services like XM and Sirius offer you the kind of radio programming options that cable brought to TV. There are lots of different specialized channels. For now it's commercial free, but that will probably change.

Services like audible.com let you listen to audiobooks and newspapers. You can also listen to many NPR shows.

Radio stations are getting into the act. Streaming audio lets you listen to the commentaries that come from this radio station by merely clicking over to whqr.org. Watch for more and more folks to take advantage of all of this technology to take control of what they watch and listen to.

Last, but not least, watch for most of us to pay attention to different things when we buy personal computers and related equipment. Here are some things to think about.

We aren't upgrading our personal computers and software as often as we used to. I used to buy a new computer every year. But the one I have now is three years old and counting.

Like lots of folks, I've found that I don't need to upgrade very often to make sure I've got the latest software and systems. I'm more concerned with how my computer connects to and works with other gear. That's what's got me thinking about upgrades.

I've got a Palm Pilot and a wireless phone and an MP3 player that I'd like to be able to work together. I want to be able connect to the Net wherever I am, so I'm thinking about upgrading to a completely wireless system. And I'm interested in some of the ways my computer might work with my TV and stereo.

Lots of other folks feel the same way. We want packages that make connections easier. Watch for more folks to want the same thing and watch for vendors to start scrambling to meet those wants. Dell is already doing it.

There's a lot more for you to watch for in 2004, but that's a good start. While you're watching, stay safe, be prosperous and do things that would make your parents proud.