In the 19th century, the invention of the telegraph and the telephone forever changed how messages moved around the world. In the 20th century, radio, television, computers and the Internet further revolutionized the near-instantaneous processing and transmission of data.
Experts say the 21st century will usher in a second Information Age in which these technologies, and their benefits, will be accessible anytime, anywhere.
Linking it all together? An absence of wires.
Every month, it seems, a new cell phone comes out that's "smarter" than the last in its ability to gather and transmit a growing amount of data: voice, images, news and more.
The Wi-Fi Alliance, a trade association working with "wireless-fidelity" technologies, says laptop computer and personal digital assistant (PDA) users can now sit down and instantly sync up on the Internet at tens of thousands of "hotspots" in homes, cafes and other high-traffic areas nationwide.
Soon, pundits predict, many more consumer electronics -- from computers to stereos to coffee makers -- could electronically connect with one another, as well as with thermostats, watches and other digital devices.
"Everyone is going to be able to tap into this pervasive wireless world," said Wade Roush, senior editor of Technology Review, pointing to rapidly improving technology and falling prices. "[Wireless technologies] are going to change the way we communicate with each other."
Those connected with the wireless world say these technologies are in their infancy. Even though sales of Wi-Fi units have doubled annually in recent years, Wi-Fi Alliance Chairman Dennis Eaton says the technologies may just be beginning a significant growth spurt.
Telecommunications companies, meanwhile, are hyping a significant mobile network upgrade -- dubbed 3G, or "Third Generation" -- that will let cell phones and other such devices transmit more data, and do it faster than ever before.
"Think of the Internet, back in 1995-1996," said Norm Rose, head of Travel Technology Consulting. "Wireless and mobile technology is the next boom. When it takes off, it will be even more disruptive than the Internet.
"It's going to be an exciting couple of years."