The tablet is the keyhole to the 21st century. It represents what publishers call “the final mile,” delivering Web content, entertainment and news to consumers.

Suddenly, disparate advances in communications are merging at breathtaking speed.

The results will change us even more than the computer revolution. Computer data will be everywhere, 24-by-7, funneled not into a computer but a hand-held tablet or cell phone.

The tablet, with its sort of kinky applications that only run on one machine type, is the keyhole to the 21st century. It represents what publishers call “the final mile,” delivering Web content, entertainment and news to consumers. It enables you to read a current copy of your newspaper in Timbuktu or the Timbuktu News in your living room.

This is a relief for those of us in the news business. The worry was the computer revolution would marginalize the printed word. Now it looks like they’ll still need writers and editors to feed the hungry media monster, not on paper but on wireless networks.

Print media is discovering hand-held systems big time. Its ability to clearly display printed content, merged with video, is unmatched, even by the stuff already on paper. Tablets soon will eclipse e-book readers that only do one thing — display text.

Even Apple has the spirit, For the first time, the company is considering discounting prior versions of its iTablet to meet competition from makers at the $199 to $299 price points.

We can only expect tablets to go the way of all things electronic and plummet in price. That will spread their audience everywhere a network signal can penetrate.

Cell phones suddenly are now competing in the desktop and laptop computer segments. Your average cell has enough computing power to compete with a bigger box. It is adding apps at a remarkable rate and price, many at 99 cents. Whole sections of the gaming industry are pointing to what they call small screen devices (tablets and cells).

If you ask software developers where the action is, they won’t say computers. They’ll say hand helds.

This is possible for one reason. Companies such as Cisco, Intel and IBM have figured out ways to increase consumer bandwidth vastly at low cost. Providers such as AT&T continually are rolling out faster and faster networks to move the data flood.

Back in the days of the slow Internet, there was no way you would stream a movie into a computer. Now that’s one of the most common uses.

As for us, we seem to become addicted to data (messaging, surfing, game playing). Our big problem now will be making sure our data doesn’t distract us into a traffic wreck or become more important than our kids and pets.

Contact Jim Hillibish at jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com.