The Long View: Change is the Only Constant

Ken Mergentime is executive editor of Sign & Digital Graphics and WRAPS magazines.

When you're trying to figure out and understand the basic truths of life, there's no better place to start than with the ancient Greek philosophers. One of the most potent truths I've found was articulated around 500 BC by a philosopher named Heraclitus. Change, he observed, is central to the universe, and he reportedly expressed it by saying, "Change is the only constant in life."

Boy, was he right.

Sign guys can especially attest to the fact that change is constant—and they see it on numerous levels every single day. In fact, their livelihoods depend upon change. Signs constantly need changing, updating and replacing. Every new product rollout, every new store front, every new off-ramp needs a sign of some kind. Customers change, customers' orders get changed. Change is constant.

And sign guys are constantly confronted with changes in technology. We saw it with dawn of cut vinyl, with four-color digital inkjet printing, with the advent of LED lighting, with table-cutting and router technology, with laser technology, with electronic digital signage, with mobile aps. The list goes on and on.

Yup, the technologies that support this industry change constantly. And that's not about to end anytime soon. Change, it appears, is in the DNA of our very existence. So, what's next?

Well, you've heard of Wi-Fi—the wireless technology we currently use for local area networking and connectivity that enables computers, smartphones and other devices to talk to the internet and to each other?

Well get ready for Li-Fi. The function of this new technology—which still in developmental stages—is similar to Wi-Fi, but instead of using broadcast radio frequencies to carry data, it uses broad-spectrum light waves to broadcast data via LED lights.

Visible light communications works by rapidly switching the current to the LEDs off and on, flickering at a very high rate—too quick to be noticed by the human eye. That flicker-signal carries the data to be picked up by devices in the area. Although Li-Fi LEDs would have to be kept on to transmit data, they could be dimmed to below human visibility while still emitting enough light to carry data. The big draw is that Li-Fi can handle a lot more data, and promises internet speeds of up to 10 Gbps (gigabytes per second), which is about 250 times faster than existing high-speed broadband connections.

The idea dovetails with the "smart house" or "smart city" concept where everything you can imagine is connected to the internet—including everything in your sign shop. Philips Lighting is investing heavily in this technology. The firm recently acquired Li-Fi developer Luciom in hopes of perfecting the technology for commercial applications. Here we go again.

Heraclitus is smiling it seems—and gleefully turning over in his grave. Okay, back to work.