Technology Changes in the Rearview Mirror

July 14, 2014

The impact of technology changes in our lives may best be appreciated by viewing technology  “in the rearview mirror.”
My 33-year career has placed me ‘front and center’ to changes in technology over 3+ decades.  Even a high-level review of major advances over 30 years shows how technology’s evolution changed our lives and how we live them.
If you remember watching Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, you may recall this entire retrospective of technology changes.   For those of you under 30 years old, reading this article may cause you to ponder what will be here in the next 30 years.
For Perspective, consider:
The year 1970
In 1970, children and young adults used encyclopedias for research.  Sets of 26-30 books would be sold to parents, with annual charges for updates from the year(s) that came after your date of purchase.  That is, you would receive a new book for the year which just past.   Children of parents who could afford these books had their encyclopedia research on bookshelves in the home.  Children of parents who could not afford a set of encyclopedias went to the library to use them.  If you were in school at this time, you remember names like Britannica, Compton, or World Books.
What do encyclopedias have to do with technology?
Consider that today’s research begins with Google, Bing, and Wikipedia.  Bookshelves may yet be rendered unnecessary due to on-line research and the birth of the Kindle and Nook.   Technology changes the way we live, often in ways we cannot see until the change has occurred.
In 1970, everyone’s telephone was a wired handset, most likely black. All clocks had hands on them, and stereos were large pieces of furniture that also stored the music you cared to hear.  That music was on vinyl records, and it was played on a turntable.
In 1970, the television which had 3 or 4 channels – 1970/71 TV schedule.  And the TV was a piece of furniture, much like the stereo.  If you remember this time, at some point you quite likely remember attempting to improve their TV reception using aluminum foil at the end of a rabbit ears antenna.  And to change the station, you actually had to get off the couch and walk over to the television.
The calculator was a studied purchase in 1970.  The best ones were expensive so many of us had to buy a lesser kind to save money, making certain it had the proper functions for the school.  Even a basic calculator was an expensive purchase in 1970.  However, by the mid-seventies, almost no one used the (now archaic)  slide ruler, which engineers had used to help astronauts get to the moon and back just a few years before.
In 1970,  IBM typewriters still dotted desks in every office, identifying where typists, assistants, and secretaries worked, and the mainframe computer reigned supreme in the world of computers.
I was one of those kids that had to work my way through college in the late 1970s.  Going to school by day, and working full time at Shell Oil by night, my job was to digitize well log data.
Digitizing Well Logs?
Technology changes of the day included digitizing data into computers.  Digitizing involved using a large electronic table, with a connected pen which could identify with precision the location of any point on the table for the computer to which it was connected. At the time, it was considered new cool technology.  The job involved tracing well log lines on that table and then following a defined procedure to confirm that the data was properly entered into the computer.  After five years, the job was far less cool than technology.  But the job helped this young man earn his college degree, so thank you Shell Oil Company.
The 1980s
My first job after college was selling 3M microfilm equipment.  In 1981, 3M was one of the leading providers of equipment that created, read, and/or printed microfilm or microfiche images.   Microfilm was the accepted way to archive newspapers, store business documents, or deliver parts catalogs to auto parts stores that needed them.   Little did I know that by the end of the decade, microfilm would be well on its way into the history books.
In 1983, I started selling application software for minicomputers.  These were computers vastly smaller than mainframes, which had their own architecture and operating system – minicomputer.  Bill Gates had started a company that would soon change everything.
Minicomputer software was proprietary to each computer for which it was written. There were many different computers that were competing for business and each computer had its own operating system.   In my case, I was selling software for the Datapoint computer.   Those of you born after 1980 have probably never heard of the company.
The Personal Computer was a new concept gaining acceptance, which not everyone embraced, especially the minicomputer competitors.  A relatively new company provided its DOS operating system for the Personal Computer (young Bill Gates).   Needless to say, the IBM/Microsoft marriage was successful.
It may surprise you to learn the portable computer was born in 1981.   The Osborne was 24 pounds and didn’t have a battery, which may explain why most people have not heard of it.  Even the Compaq was a beast in the mid-80s relative to its modern descendants.  But to this day I remember people looking at me carrying that computer through the airport.
The big names of minicomputers began losing their status in the market as the PC became popular.  Most had to evolve or cease to exist.  Some evolved, some dug-in with a “we can compete” attitude.  Fifty-somethings may recall names like Digital Equipment Company (aka DEC) and Burroughs Corporation.  And, twenty-somethings may be researching the names on a smartphone right now.
By the end of the 1980s, the PC had ended the era of the proprietary minicomputer, although descendants of a few of them lived on. (The IBM AS/400 is an example.)  By the end of the decade, the people’s addiction to the portable computer was complete.
The 1990s 
The technology changes which had been incubating for years accelerated change never seen before.  The cell phone, the PC, and the internet each leaped forward as the new millennium approached.
The bag phone started our love affair with the cellular phone, although it has become so much more than a phone.
The technology had been around a while, but the evolution finally achieved affordability, at least for some of us.  Usage charges by the minute were extremely expensive compared to today but there were many folks who “had to have the new cool portable phone”.
In spite of the high usage charges, the Motorola bag phone became a must-have for many people who valued the ability to communicate from their cars or elsewhere.  Some of you were those guys with the bag phone in 1990, If you are ‘of a certain age’, you likely rang in the year 2000 owning a cellular telephone.
The 1990s also officially ushered in the internet.  In 1990, few people knew there was an internet.  But before we watched Y2K arrive, Americans were hooked.  Like the cell phone, it had been around for quite a while, but acceptance was finally achieved in the 1990s.  For example, in 1994 only 3% of American classrooms had access to the Internet.  By 2002 92% were connected. – Wikipedia.
As we said goodbye to 1999, my desk at home and at work had ‘docking stations’ for my portable computer which went back and forth to work, and on the road with me.  It also had both docked (wired) and wireless connectivity to the internet… and a cell phone next to the docking station.
The cell phone was soon to be a must-have for adults as increased demand was driving down usage costs.
Wireless internet outpaced analog connectivity in the year 2000, surpassing 100 million users.  That amounted to 38% of the population according to the Wireless History Timeline – Wireless History Timeline.
Mobile technology became the norm with phones and computers early in the first decade of the 21st century.  And access would soon be expected by the population for both Wi-Fi accessibility and cell phone coverage.
Most of remembering Quick Service Restaurants and others offering Wi-Fi for a price.  I actually stopped buying Starbucks coffee when they chose to charge me for access to Wi-Fi.  And I wasn’t the only one who wouldn’t pay for the access.  Retailers soon realized that offering it for free was a better business decision.
As cell phone manufacturers increased cell phone functionality and bandwidth capacity, the available cell coverage became strained.  The providers were adding capacity but they could not keep up with the demand for it.
Children born after 2001 will not recall a time without cell phones. Many will not remember having a ‘landline’ at their house. And none of them will remember a time without wireless internet.
What Does The Future Look Like?
No one really questions that technology will continue to race forward.  There will probably always be new technologies to amaze us.
The last one that amazed me was the 3-D printer.  It seems to me that this technology may yet change our lives in ways most of us do not currently see.  And, this is just one technology breakthrough.
We each pay attention to the technology that we use in our daily lives. Examples include a new iPhone, new iPad, or social media.  But there are many technologies emerging, in research or alpha testing as you read this.
Some of these technologies shall no doubt be unsuccessful.  But others may be in an early stage of their lifecycle.  They might be testing their way to maturity and a price point that may transform how we live our daily lives.  Over the last 30 years, the portable computer, the internet, and the cellular phone did exactly that.
If my career is a bellwether of decades to come, we can expect technology to change our lives profoundly, even if we are unable to predict how, or when.   It may seem to be a small step for technology as it arrives, but it may create major changes in the way we live our lives in the years to come.
by John Davis
Business Development Director – NTI

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