Misc Thoughts

Throwback Quote of the Day

My father was born in 1928 and will turn 80 next January.  Like many of his generation, he’s struggled a bit to adopt all the new technology that’s been thrown at him over the years, but he’s made a pretty good attempt.  Email and cell phones have mostly made it into the mix, but IM, text messaging and Facebook will probably never be part his life.

I often wonder what it’s like to have lived for most of the 20th century.  Not so much for the sheer number of changes that took place during the century, but for their magnitude.  My feeling is that the rate of change is higher now, but most changes are of a much lower magnitude than in the last 100 years.  For the most part, modern changes tend to be more incremental. 

Sometimes, this becomes evident in things my father reflects on or inadvertently says.  A few days ago, I gave him a call (on his cell phone, which I’m still surprised he even owns) and he said:

Can I call you right back?  I’m on a long distance call.”

A long distance call . . . I can even remember back in the 60s, when I was a kid, thinking that long distance calls were for times when bad news had to be conveyed, because it was the only time we could justify the cost hurdle.  The whole idea that a long distance call is any different from a local call is almost a forgotten concept now that a call is virtually transparent and is measured and billed in time units, not distance.

He said it so naturally, it took me a minute to understand what was so weird about the statement when considered in modern terms.  If I were a better listener, I bet more of these gems would become obvious to me.

6 Comments

  1. I’m not one to over-gush about the Internet but I think it’s hard to claim that the ability for anyone to publish, any time, and make it accessible to everyone instantaneously, is hardly an “incremental” change. Further, we tend to think of changes as “incremental” when in fact they are exponential – for example, in the last two years, the number of transistors on a chip increased by the same amount as in the first 40 years of integrated circuits – is that merely incremental just because it’s another point on an exponential curve?

  2. I’m not one to over-gush about the Internet but I think it’s hard to claim that the ability for anyone to publish, any time, and make it accessible to everyone instantaneously, is hardly an “incremental” change. Further, we tend to think of changes as “incremental” when in fact they are exponential – for example, in the last two years, the number of transistors on a chip increased by the same amount as in the first 40 years of integrated circuits – is that merely incremental just because it’s another point on an exponential curve?

  3. Yeah, I suppose I can’t argue with the whole Internet publishing thing. You’re right about that. I see the exponential increase in transistors as incremental, though. It’s impact on the man on the street is relatively small and generally the impact is a second-order effect – a minority of people who use the power deliver other stuff that impacts the majority of people. So, it never appears as a massive change to the masses.

  4. Yeah, I suppose I can’t argue with the whole Internet publishing thing. You’re right about that. I see the exponential increase in transistors as incremental, though. It’s impact on the man on the street is relatively small and generally the impact is a second-order effect – a minority of people who use the power deliver other stuff that impacts the majority of people. So, it never appears as a massive change to the masses.

  5. I have to go with Will, we’re looking at mostly incremental changes, there may be a few truly disruptive advances lurking out there, but I don’t think real life experience altering changes of the order of magnitude are out there like they were in the 19th and 20th century.

    Speaking of the 19th century, or more specifically say 1828 to 1928, I think you are looking at the most radical changes in humankind. Two years earlier, in July of 1825 John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died in bed, there was no anesthesia or pain killer (except alcohol) to ally you pain, virtually no effective medicines, and surgery was painful and highly risky and rarely effective. Germs, what are germs? You could cross the Atlantic, reliably, no faster than the Vikings, and all the way you had no better idea where you were than centuries before. Communication was no faster than 1,000 years before. We don’t know what our first presidents looked or sounded like except through the eyes and ears of artists, there was no recording technology. In the century from 1828 to 1928 pretty much everything changed.

    A very short and incomplete list

    Communication:
    1844: Morse’s telegraph
    1849: first telephone, Antonio Meucci
    1853: the first transatlantic cable
    1903: transatlantic radio transmission

    Transportation:
    1838: Great Western Steam ship crosses Atlantic in 1/2 the time of previous records.
    1903: Wright Brothers Powered flight
    1928: Lindberg’s transatlantic flight

    Medicine:
    1844-47: general anesthesia, Nitrous, ether chloroform
    1853: hypodermic needles allow widespread use of Morphine
    1867: antiseptic surgery
    1881: anthrax vaccine (many more vaccines follow)
    1895: Medical X-rays
    1899: commercial aspirin
    1901: blood typing
    1928: Penicillin

    General technology:
    1832: Faraday’s dynamo
    1839: first “permanent” photograph
    1842: mechanical refrigeration
    1876: practical 4 stroke engine
    1874: QWERTY keyboard typewriter
    1877: the phonograph
    1910: first jet engine powered flight

    General science:
    1849: 1st successful terrestrial measurement of speed of light
    1859: origin of the species
    1869: the peridic table
    1904: nuclear model of the atom
    1828-1928: pretty much all of physics

    Benjamin Franklin foresaw the coming radical pace of technological change and lamented he would not be around to witness it.

    John

  6. I have to go with Will, we’re looking at mostly incremental changes, there may be a few truly disruptive advances lurking out there, but I don’t think real life experience altering changes of the order of magnitude are out there like they were in the 19th and 20th century.

    Speaking of the 19th century, or more specifically say 1828 to 1928, I think you are looking at the most radical changes in humankind. Two years earlier, in July of 1825 John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died in bed, there was no anesthesia or pain killer (except alcohol) to ally you pain, virtually no effective medicines, and surgery was painful and highly risky and rarely effective. Germs, what are germs? You could cross the Atlantic, reliably, no faster than the Vikings, and all the way you had no better idea where you were than centuries before. Communication was no faster than 1,000 years before. We don’t know what our first presidents looked or sounded like except through the eyes and ears of artists, there was no recording technology. In the century from 1828 to 1928 pretty much everything changed.

    A very short and incomplete list

    Communication:
    1844: Morse’s telegraph
    1849: first telephone, Antonio Meucci
    1853: the first transatlantic cable
    1903: transatlantic radio transmission

    Transportation:
    1838: Great Western Steam ship crosses Atlantic in 1/2 the time of previous records.
    1903: Wright Brothers Powered flight
    1928: Lindberg’s transatlantic flight

    Medicine:
    1844-47: general anesthesia, Nitrous, ether chloroform
    1853: hypodermic needles allow widespread use of Morphine
    1867: antiseptic surgery
    1881: anthrax vaccine (many more vaccines follow)
    1895: Medical X-rays
    1899: commercial aspirin
    1901: blood typing
    1928: Penicillin

    General technology:
    1832: Faraday’s dynamo
    1839: first “permanent” photograph
    1842: mechanical refrigeration
    1876: practical 4 stroke engine
    1874: QWERTY keyboard typewriter
    1877: the phonograph
    1910: first jet engine powered flight

    General science:
    1849: 1st successful terrestrial measurement of speed of light
    1859: origin of the species
    1869: the peridic table
    1904: nuclear model of the atom
    1828-1928: pretty much all of physics

    Benjamin Franklin foresaw the coming radical pace of technological change and lamented he would not be around to witness it.

    John

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