John Jordan, a professor at Penn State who spends a lot of time thinking about technology and the future, has written a great piece on some of our past brushes with technology
He thinks about things like our first email address, our first look at the visual Internet (I have a vivid memory of Gerry Mikulski calling me on the phone and saying, "You have to do this. Right Now!" and there was Mosaic), our first cell phone and so forth.
It's both humorous and insightful.
He makes an important point that I've been noticing (after the fact, of course) that we often don't understand the potential impact of important change when we're in the middle of first trying it out. On the one hand, that's too bad because we might take advantage of new technology more quickly if we had "gotten it" sooner. On the other hand (I'm an economist, economists always have another hand), perhaps some of that potential occurs because we don't limit the technology by what we think it can do -- it often takes unexpected paths of its own.
I've never forgotten my experience as the Program Chair of the first Office Automation conference in 1980. All of my program committee members used ARPANET (the precursor of the Internet), because they were academics and researchers. In fact, the conference journal editor was from Bell Labs. So we used this facility to let us correspond about and put together the conference proceedings. But not one of us, even though we were all early email users on the then-available private and commercial systems even thought about the fact that the biggest factor that would affect how we work was sitting right there. We missed it because people thought of the ARPANET as a special-purpose network and didn't realize how applicable its technology would be to not only communications, but also to e-commerce, social media, and the general sharing of all kinds of information.
I want to remember that experience because it keeps me humble about my ability, despite our training or creative imaginations, to predict what will happen and when.
Recently, my friend Jonathan Spira of Basex pointed me to a space on YouTube where many of the videos vendors produced in the late 80's and early 90's about the glories of a completely connected, highly intelligent, paperless office. It's fun to see what HP, Apple,and other thought would happen and when (they wanted it to be soon). Some of these things are now true (barely); others (the ubiquitous, all-knowing automated assistant) still seem to be far away. Again, we can know much more about what is possible after the fact. I used to show the Apple video to office automation seminars and people used to skip right over the opening line "In the year 2010" and ask how they could buy that - the clever video made it seem that accessible.
John Jordan's article is making me think of lots of things that seemed different on first contact than now. I'll have to write about that soon.