Tuesday, March 29, 2005

It's that day again...

My annual milestone (should that be millstone?) has come around again...

As a teenager listening to my grandparents who were born in the very early years of the 20th century, I was always struck by the massive technological change they'd witnessed. They all had vivid memories of horse-drawn transport, airships (yes, airships!) and the first areoplanes, as well as the gradual replacement of coal for heating and powering ships and locomotives.

My generation hasn't seen anything like the same degree of change. Here's a brief list of the things I can remember that have all but disappeared:
  • Black and white televisions
  • Mechanical watches
  • Electro-mechanical telephones
  • Record players and of course records
  • Microfilm records
  • Tape recorders.
As for new things, the only really significant technology for most of us has been:
  • Mobile phones
  • Compact Disks
  • Affordable home computers and the Internet
  • Quartz watches.
Of course there are a ton of improvements that have occured to make life much safer and better for us all. Largely invisible things like the replacement of lead pipes for drinking water, quiet fuel efficient aircraft, more reliable and faster cars, the development of new drugs and medical technology, computers replacing paper filing systems, better artifical fibres and so on.

But none of these things represent a paradigm shift (to use the management consultant speak) of anything like the magnitude of the replacement of the horse by the internal combustion engine, or the development of the aircraft.

As for the significance of all this, I'm very pleased I have some memories of the moon landings - in my opinion the most important event of the 20th century and the only thing it will be remembered for in centuries to come.

Of the short list above, the Internet is the only development that really seems significant. It has changed the lives of millions of us at least in the developed world. It's too early to say just what it's long-term impact will be although it, or it's sucessors must be here to stay.

For everything else, despite the image we may have of ourselves, there's been a steady improvement in all areas of life with things becoming better made and more reliable. Welcome, worthy, but unspectacular.

So remember, despite what the management consultants might scrawl on the whiteboard we do not live in revolutionary times of rapid technological change.



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