Technologies change but what remains


Recently while cooking dinner for the family, my 3-year-old daughter walked into the kitchen with her toy phone tucked between head and shoulder carrying on a conversation, with whom I don’t know because she said in a perfect tone “I can’t talk now, I’ve gotta go” complete with eye-roll.  She could’ve have been 17 for all the attitude she was channeling.

It got me to thinking about what her technology world would be like as she grows older. Some things will change and some things will obviously hold true: faster, more powerful computers – check; ubiquitous, always-on connectivity to the web – check; time-shifting only growing stronger making appointment TV all but finished – check; but what new technologies that haven’t been invented yet will become central in her and her friends lives?

Of course as much as we like to think each generation of technology is completely new and without precedent, a little perspective is in order.  For example  Time-shifting and content creation were around way before Youtube became a verb, but they were  just there in different forms when I was a kid. The hot new technology for time shifting and content creation back then was the humble cassette recorder. My parents would record letters to each other to make the Navy Deployments to Vietnam easier.  This was the ultimate in time-shifting technology because it let my father hear my mom in the privacy of his bunk while at sea instead of waiting until they got to port and trying to shout over a payphone on a pier somewhere with 50 other sailors doing the exact same thing. Of course the time lags between tapes were long, but dad had multiple tapes and whenever he got homesick he could pop in a tape and hear my mom’s voice. Missing your family while on deployment hasn’t changed but now sailors at sea can use webcams to do homework with their kids between standing shifts on deck.

And before cassette recorders, books and the written word represented the original time shifting allowing an oral tradition to be recorded for later reference and study. First the Chinese, and centuries later Gutenberg, improved on the one-off method of copying books by inventing the printing press allowing multiple copies to printed in less time with more accuracy.  Books are more common than ever, but I don’t see the same appreciation for them that I was taught when I was my daughter’s age.  We read to our daughter every day and she has her favorite books now, but how will my daughter look at books in 20 or 30 years?

With the  continued improvements in e-readers like Amazon’s Kindle,  I’m sure there will eventually be a day – probably in 3-5 years where the experience of using E-readers will equal reading a physical book and prices will drop enough so that they’ll become ubiquitous. I’m thinking about getting the Kindle 3.0 when it arrives because whenever my wife and I go on vacation – books inevitably take up about 20% of our weight allotment for luggage. Being able to carry one reader with 20 books, magazines and the Sunday NY Times would be a refreshing development for my back.

Technology and trends are always changing and you only have to look at social media to see how much has changed in just five years. Youtube didn’t even exist in 2004 and yet it was able to affect the outcomes of political races in 2006 and 2008. When I look at the ever-changing interest in social media like  friendster, myspace, facebook, twitter, brightkite or hunch.com, all I can think is what’s next. Facebook was novel and I joined just before it was opened to everyone and now almost everyone I know uses it to some degree. But the people I know who use it the most aren’t kids in high school but people in their 30s and 40s – and they are using it to reconnect with friends from high school and college. Friendster was once all the rage but I don’t know anyone who uses it today, although I hear it’s popular in Asia.

What’s the new technology that hasn’t been invented yet and when will be obsolete? -t

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