What's Changed in Twenty Years? The PC
When my grandparents were still alive, I felt a strong connection to the reflections they shared of years gone by. One theme that struck me again and again was the incredible number changes they witnessed during their seventy-plus years. No other generation, it seemed to me, had undergone a more significant transition than they had. Automobile to airplanes. Handguns to nuclear weapons. Terror of deadly and debilitating diseases to reliable vaccines. Radio to TV. Recorded sound, starting with LPs and evolving to CDs, to recorded video, first in a theater, then on TV and then on home video. The discovery of DNA. Electronic appliances. Satellites. Space travel. Moon landings. It’s mindboggling to me how so many of this generation managed to ride the wave of technology with grace.
As a college student in 1990, I once lamented to a friend that my generation (I believe we’re still called Generation X) had witnessed technological advances that paled in comparison to my grandparents’ generation, that there was not much left to discover. Sure, you could make a car safer or more efficient, or you might allow for personalized space travel, but these achievements would merely be variations on a theme. What was on the horizon that would truly change our world?
My friend thought about this for a minute, and then answered, “The personal computer!”
Nicely done, Mark.
At that time it was hard to me to recognize how personal computers would change the world, mostly because I didn’t have one. None of us did. We’d hoof it over to the computer lab on cold and snowy evenings and attempt to get Pascal to sort our data sets properly, and then we’d wrestle with the dot-matrix printer, rip off the perforated margins of our assignments and trudge back home.
In other words, personal computers weren’t so personal. My friend Eric had had one as far back as 1985, and in high school he’d allowed me to compose my term paper on Alfred Hitchcock on his Mac. That was definitely helpful and cool. But life changing? And where was MY computer? Here we were five years later, and nothing much had changed.
My lack of vision when it comes to computers and their eventual counterparts – cell phones, navigation systems, ebooks, and the like – is probably why I’m not an entrepreneur or an innovator. But did ANYone really see the next twenty years coming? The first time I heard of the Internet was in 1993. Could anyone at that time have predicted that in fifteen years there would be Youtube? Amazon? Facebook? Wikipedia? Googlemaps?
Obviously, some did. They’re billionaires now.
I think it’s fair to say that what we’ve encountered during the past twenty years is as monumental as anything prior generations witnessed in the same span of time. Maybe even more so. The rate of change had been staggering, not just in terms of inventions, but it terms of real life changes. Our ability to access information and communicate with other people is beyond anything most could have ever envisioned (excluding Ray Bradbury, who predicted it all by 1951).
In ten years time, will my children lament to a friend that there’s nothing more to discover? If they do, I’ve no doubt that they’ll be blown away by the decades to come. The capacity for human ingenuity is boundless.