For some reason I have had these visions popping into my head of the things in life that technology has pretty much erased from the face of the Earth. If you are under 25 years old, this post may not mean much to you. For the rest of us, this will be a bit nostalgic. The point is not simply to stroll back through the memories of our past, because the real goal here is to help us look forward into the future. By taking a look at the dynamics of days gone by, we may be able to apply the flow of what has happened forward to predict the future, and maybe even make a guess as to whether we will like what we see…
I remembered carbon paper this morning. I am not sure why, but the distinct memory of the days when we actually stacked up sheets of clean paper, with sheets of carbon impregnated wisps and then hit the keys extra hard to make sure that our words actually were copied onto all pages. Of course this also made me think of white out, and the big step forward when we got NCR paper, which had that magical ability to copy words through without the actual carbon paper being in between.
I have often recalled those cute little pink “While You Were Out” tablets that my admin used to fill out with the 50 or so calls I would get a day on the telephone. That was back in the day when I received that kind of volume of calls. Today a busy phone day might be 5 to 8 calls, and they come on my cell phone, which has a system that recognizes most callers by checking the number against my contact list. That means the caller is greeted by name, their message is taken, converted to text and sent to my email and texted to me. No admin involved at this point.
I remember going to library and using the Dewey Decimal System to look up a book so I could find the piece of information I was searching for in that large institution of knowledge. I remember having to be quiet, having to check out the books, which meant having a library card, and being forced to have a deadline for the return of their property. Oh, and I remember the fines.
Of course I remember vinyl records, 8 tracks, cassettes, and CD’s. That means I remember having to clean the needle on the record player, and buying a new one every once in a while. I remember my kid brother scratching the needle across my favorite Elton John record, and I remember chasing him around the house after it started skipping – never to be repaired. And I recall the tape players eating the tape on occasion. I also remember sitting by the radio with my cassette recorder ready to go so I could tape a song I liked that I just could not get on a piece of media, then being the only one of my friends with the recording – even though it started 10 words into the song.
OK, let’s go to bullet points from here!
- When my news came from TV and paper
- When I lost touch with friends and co-workers never to be found again
- When I had to memorize addresses, birthdays and phone numbers
- When I could be by myself and no one could find me and make me work
- When my kids communicated with the person in the room, and not ten people on their mobile device
- When my Rolodex was the most important contact tool I had
- And finally, when I read books that were made with real paper, and I carried one at a time.
The truth is, life has changed a lot and I am not just talking about the tools we use. The pace is changing – It moves much faster. The input has changed; it is now a fire hose of information, not just bits and pieces. The ways we communicate and get entertained are completely different now. The ways we have meals, and what we think is appropriate has changed. So how does all this looking back, help us look forward?
The strange thing about we humans is that we most often get what we want. That is to say that when we seek advancement, we always seem to find a way to make it happen. We believe in a world of possibilities and for this reason it is safe to say that the tools we use today will continue to evolve to help us get what we want. That concept is always hard for most people to wrap their heads around because they can only see what is right in front of them and they believe we are SOOOO advanced that we simply could not invent yet another way to improve things. This of course is not true…
Here is a list of what we seek by the way:
More convenience – Life in general and work specifically should be simpler to handle.
More connection – We like to connect with others that think like us, are related to us, or have some other connection to us. At times we just want to connect with famous people because it makes us feel important.
Easier communications – The simplest form of connection is simply being able to “talk” to others. We crave easier, faster, and simpler ways to get in touch with whomever we want, whenever we want.
Better entertainment – Need I say more? We like to be entertained.
More productivity – Our bosses demand it, and we have found that our pocket book gets enhanced when we can get more work done in a 24-hour period. Anything that helps us get more work done faster is a winner for most of us.
With this list as a touchstone, and given the changes we have already seen from the past, what can we look for in the future? And maybe the bigger question is will our lives be better when we get it? Is everything we want actually good for us?
The answers to these questions could take up five more posts, but let me make a few observations…. There are lots of things that are still broken with how we communicate, connect, and get work done. Without even thinking hard, think about how inefficient the keyboard and mouse are as interface devices. It takes me way longer to document these thoughts than just to think them. I need them to get stored in digital as fast as I can think of them. When I want to send them to my friends, I have to just pick one method, or work really hard to guess what each of you would prefer. Wouldn’t it be great if I could just tell my computer the people I want to receive this and my system would reconcile with your systems the best way to get the information to you!
Productivity is still in the dark ages for the most part. We do not have automatic system to update those around us when we complete a task, or even what the status might be. We still must do lots of tasks by hand, and do the same things over and over. We still gather information through long painful meetings and discussions… You get the idea.
The point I want to drive home is that we are making an escalating amount of progress in applying technology to improve our lives. We are not done. Because we have a driving need to improve on the ways I mentioned, we are only halfway there if that. So the change from carbon paper to Microsoft Word is only a partial improvement. Get ready for much more to come. And when you have some free time, think about the really big question concerning whether we will ultimately be happy when we get there.
Scott Klososky is one of the first successful Internet entrepreneurs and is a highly sought-after technology and future trends speaker. You can read this article and others on Scott's blog Technology Story.