In 1972, at the prime of my teens, I read science fiction as well as science prediction books. Looking toward the year 2000, which seemed Utopian at the time, we expected:
- Flying cars (didn’t happen)
- Space tourism (didn’t happen, discounting the less than 10 or so people counting as such so far)
- Jet backpacks (huh?)
- Mass transit a la Jetsons (moving sidewalks, flying trains)
- Meals in pill or paste form from dispensers (huh?)
- Computers as or more intelligent as humans (didn’t happen – yet)
We didn’t expect:
- The Internet and all it did to change the way we live, think and communicate
- Digital music and all the outcroppings of that starting with the CD and the abandoning of vinyl records
- Miniaturization of electronics
- Escalation of computing power
If you could ignore the cars on the road for a minute, and you walked down the street in any city of the United States today, you’d be hard pressed to tell the date (2008, 1998, 1988, 1978 or 1968). Things and people look largely the same.
But the gear we carry in our packs (laptops), on our hips (cell phones) and in our pockets (iPods) are things made utterly of magic, as seen with the eyes of someone in 1972.
I clearly remember when, in 1981, I worked as a computer operator for Ticketmaster, when Ticketmaster was still a small company in Scottsdale, Arizona, with about 35 employees and two installations, one in El Paso and another in Albuquerque. The disk packs I had to switch out for backup every night after the day’s operations were the approximate size and shape of a hubcap of an SUV and weighed about 10 pounds each in bulky plastic cases. Here I swiped a picture courtesy of the Wofford Witch project with the disk packs shown at the blue arrow:
Each one of those contained either 2.5 megabytes or 5 megabytes – I honestly can’t remember.
Then I remember when, in 1993, I was working as a consultant programmer for a company that produced image scanning software. We bought the very latest, high end computers with the largest disk drives we could find, one primary and one backup. We networked them together with a simple coaxial cable and “Microsoft Windows for Workgroups.” The computers were two Intel 486-66 machines, each with a 500 megabyte hard drive. I remember being truly astonished that I had access to a full gigabyte of disk storage on this system. Each computer cost over $5,000.
Today I stood in line at Blockbuster to rent a movie. On the counter, amongst the impulse buyer junk, there was a stash of memory sticks (thumb drives) listed for $6.99 for one gigabyte of capacity. In only 15 years of progress we went from one gigabyte storage capacity, effectively costing $10,000 to $6.99.
What will I be able to buy for $6.99 15 years hence in the year 2023?
My hunch is I don’t have the ability to make that up, just like I didn’t see the Internet coming in 1980.