The Context of Technology

There was a time when the horse was king.  Work was done by it, wars were fought with it, and it was even a symbol of wealth. Well times have changed huh?

Having one of my weekly meetings with a client of mine we sat down over lunch and started to discuss the things we’ve come together to discuss.  He started talking about how he was going to build a box from a server he had around to do some VM work.  We discussed hardware speeds and size etc etc.  We then started to talk about the assumption of superior hardware a mac was over a PC.

The conversation came from a story I told of a graphic designer back in the day telling me he used a mac for design because “it had round pixels and was easier to work with”.  Then, that there was a brief time in computer history that the hardware in mac was in fact better than what PC’s had at the time.  This post isn’t about how PC’s are better than Mac’s (they are, it’s just people that buy Mac’s spent too much unnecessary money or are too vain to ever admit it) or how, for some reason people lump Microsoft and Apple in the same category. Which is wrong and honestly stupid because Apple is a hardware company (phones, computers, audio devices etc) and Microsoft is (for the most part) a software company. In fact, as a tidbit of info for the fan boys out there, I believe Microsoft is still one of the top selling vendors for the Mac platform. No, this post isn’t about any of that /soapbox.

This post is about the context around Technology.   You all know the cliché, older generations look at the technology of today and shake their heads and state, “you know in my day….”.  Well lets dig into that statement a bit… let’s talk about your day.

To understand the context of technology you have to timeline things out a bit. My grandfather, a retired steel mill electrician would tell me many times of the days when computers were being introduced to his workplace and how when things would go wrong with the computer he would know exactly what the issue was because computer power can’t match human brain power.

As far as my grandfather knew, his context of technology was the the prime of a man, will power, strength and smarts.  But what if technology never evolved to the point of even having a steel mill job, what if he worked in a blacksmith’s shop instead. No machines to monitor and fix or wire up, just a hearth, raw iron, hammers, anvils and brute strength.  His understanding of technology would be limited to just there in that small shop. Now what if he was around when the first steel mill opened and it was a direct competitor of his. Being able to churn out thousands and thousands more pounds of refined steel by the hour.  His understanding of the progress of technology would at that moment change. In his world, that would be the dawn of an era, the industrial revolution buildings, manufacturing etc.

All the people in the generation before his would look upon that change with obvious distain.  I’m sure it was spoken that man would get lazy or that they wouldn’t know the reward of pounding out that iron and making steel. Now it’s made for them, all these buildings are going to go up take over the rural landscape etc etc and so on.

That could be said for so many other things: snail mail vs the telegraph, horse vs car, etc.

Let’s fast forward to my father time.  My father early in his career was a building drafter and architect.  He still, oddly enough (to my generation) works for the same company as he did when he started.  He no longer draws however, now there are computers for that. All he did at that switch of technology was verified those drawings and make sure it was done right and to code.  His context of technology changed as computers really took hold and started doing a lot of the calculations and advanced thinking in jobs.  I’m sure when that time came he was afraid for his job, I’m sure there were people (just like in my grandfather’s time) that were worried that  man would get lazy, less intelligent even and that man would have to evolve to compete.  We know now that’s not really the case, it’s just another type of job when working with computers.

Now to my generation, the glorious computer age.  I can still hear the ring of my mother’s gripe in my ear saying “Eric, why don’t you go outside and get out from in front of that darn computer”.  Well the funny thing is that computer is my proverbial TV that my folks would sit in front of and kill time, or the radio that my grandfather would sit in front of and kill time. It is all IN CONTEXT a way to entertain one’s self.  Now that computer that my mother was griping at is the sole reason I have a career today. It’s still a joke we throw around often to this day.

Even in my, hip on the times mentality I can see tangible aspect of my theory at play in my own life.  My first gaming console was a Nintendo; it was chip based cartridges, wired controllers and VGA inputs.  Now my Xbox 360 is wireless with optical disks, it’s even got a controler that you just stand there and move and high definition displays I never dreamed possible when I was kicking bowsers ass in Mario Bro’s on that grainy 13 inch TV with rabbit ears.

I’m seeing the exact same mentality my grandfather had with electronics in his steel mill in my world. Example; I’m not big on the tablet craze in my opinion you either need a cell phone, a laptop or a desktop why do you need a tablet to do remedial task’s that can be done with a laptop. Guess what, my context of technology is based on tactile input of computing (keyboards vs. touchscreens) and the comfort zone I came to know and love.

I look at the gadgets that are coming to market faster than I could have ever imagined and I sit back and catch myself sometimes saying; “you know I just can’t see the use for that” instead of what I used to say “wow that’s a cool piece of technology”.  There’s no doubt in my mind my context of technology will fall by the way side of what is cutting edge and the generation that has come after me will pick up where I left off.

When they have personal robots, cars that drive themselves and dare I say it… hover boards. That will be the new context of Technology.

It’s ever changing and if you map it out on time vs. gadget advancement you’ll see its actually compounding exponentially upon itself.  That might seem annoying and unnecessary now but when other generations look back at this time and say that’s when the computer was built it will be a stepping stone that doesn’t seem as advanced as they have come to know.

So next time you’re looking at that new latest and greatest gizmo or wondering, “do we really need yet another ebook reader, taking an actual book out of a person’s hand” remeber to think about your context of technology. Always interesting to me at least.

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