Tripping on Light Fantastic

The part of your brain that craves pleasure is easily bored. When people get alternating teaspoons of Kool-Aid and water, their brains go into ho-hum mode; when the Kool-Aid comes in an unpredictable pattern, the nucleus accumbens (which seems to drive ad

The part of your brain that craves pleasure is easily bored. When people get alternating teaspoons of Kool-Aid and water, their brains go into ho-hum mode; when the Kool-Aid comes in an unpredictable pattern, the nucleus accumbens (which seems to drive addictive behavior) pays attention. Maybe thats why IT spending has slowed: The industry has run out of ways to surprise us. Its not fun anymore.

Hyperlink spreadsheets to documents? Done that. Read e-mail from anywhere? Expected. Publish a presentation to an intranet site? Of course. Attend a nationwide seminar while sitting at your desk, connected by browser and telephone? Why tolerate anything less convenient?

Fortunately, there are people who can still surprise me—and whose work will maintain accustomed rates of growth in the things we can do.

Bandwidth, in particular, will benefit from our growing ability to manipulate actual photons. Next-generation optical fibers, already in testing at the University of Bath in England, trap light in a hollow core—a pathway of air, not glass—by enclosing that tunnel in "photonic band gap" material.

These crystal structures confine lights energy with minimal distortion, potentially reducing losses. Bandwidth can go up, while the cost of in-line amplifiers falls.

Mind you, traditional optical fibers wont be quickly displaced: This March, teams from Alcatel and NEC separately announced successful efforts to break the barrier of 10 trillion bits per second through a single 100-km fiber, achieving roughly six times the throughput of current fiber-optic installations.

If theres one thing that addicts us to our PCs, its reluctance to wait for distant code and data. More bandwidth will lower the barriers to thinner clients and lower-cost sharing of resources.