Technology – it keeps changing and so do we

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

If you feel overwhelmed by the changes in technology from everything from phones to ferries, you are not alone.

Several years ago, in about 2012 or 2013, I had a college level section of a class on changes in technology from 2000 to 2010.

It was a dizzying overview of everyday objects, industries and technologies emerging, changing shape or disappearing entirely.

Back in those barbaric days of the late 1990s, you had to go to a store to buy music, a phone was only a phone (no texting, photos or websurfing) and professional people used pagers, wristwatches and fax machines without embarrassment (or irony).

And on the fashion front, beards were essentially non-existent and tattoos – even on the grungiest of grunge bands from Seattle in the mid – to late 1990s barely existed (check out some of the photo shoots or album covers!).

For several years, from about 1995 to about 2010, not even children rode bicycles. Now electric bikes, cargo bikes and scooters seem to be everywhere.

Only hackers (and that was primarily a positive term back then) knew (or cared) about Linux (1*) and we were all (relatively) tolerant of paying for long distance calls (those under 30 might be forgiven for not even knowing what that means.

Anyone remember calling cards? You could call anyone at any time, anywhere in the world thanks to a wonderful invention – a prepaid phone card. It was a life-changing development – until it wasn’t.

Remember calling cards? They were immensely popular, and then they disappeared.

Remember calling cards? They were immensely popular, and then they disappeared.

Remember MP3 players? They were introduced in 1998. Apple improved and marketed them, but did not invent them.

Got an old Blackberry in a drawer somewhere? Everyone seemed to have a Blackberry in hand back in the late ’90s and early 2000s – until they disappeared and were essentially never mentioned again.

It is difficult to even imagine, but Amazon was founded in 1994 and barely made a profit for more than a decade.

Photoshop and digital photography emerged, dominated and then swallowed the film industry in the 1990s.

Google was founded in 1998. Anyone remember Netscape? Or Hotbot? Or Ask Jeeves? Or AOL? They dominated the search engine universe for years. Until they suddenly didn’t.

AA batteries seemed to power everything back in the 1990s and into the 2000s – but have you seen or used one lately?

For a little perspective, look at the years these companies were founded;

Snapchat: 2011
Pinterest: 2010
Instagram: 2010
Bitcoin: 2009
Tumblr: 2007
Twitter: 2006
YouTube: 2005
Reddit: 2005
Facebook: 2004
LinkedIn: 2002
Wikipedia: 2001
Napster: 1999
Google: 1998
Paypal: 1998
Netflix: 1997
Yahoo: 1994
Amazon: 1994
Netscape:1994

Some, like Amazon, currently dominate the market. Others have evaporated or barely exist.

It's difficult to imagine now, but Netflix began as a mail order rental DVD delivery service.  Photo: Morf Morford

It’s difficult to imagine now, but Netflix began as a mail order rental DVD delivery service. Photo: Morf Morford

Will Facebook or Amazon exist five or ten years from now?

Netscape monopolized search engines until, over night it seemed, they were gone.

Remember Myspace?

I mention all of this because the 1990s set the stage for the early 2000s, which set the stage for the twenty-teens, which will set the stage for, well, you get the picture.

Autonomous vehicles (cars and truck mostly) are, with a variety of legal and technological fits and starts, becoming almost routine.

Norway has just offered an autonomous ferry which will operate much like an elevator:https://newatlas.com/autonomous-electric-ferry/55265/.

It’s hard to believe that not too long ago, elevators had human “operators”. Perhaps the day is not too far away that we will marvel at the idea of cars and trucks needing “operators”.

With GPS on every smart phone, near-complete control of a vehicle is only a short step away.

In the past ten years we have seen Snapchat, Instagram, Kickstarter, Pinterest, Whatsapp, Spotify, Square and Airbnb among many others. These have all, in their own way, been disrupters, and for better or worse, changed how we work, play and get around.

So what’s coming? 

Here’s a few things; Uber, Lyft and others are changing not only how we get around, but who owns a vehicle. Fewer and fewer of us will be “owning” cars in the future. (2*)

Some transportation analysts project that, in the near future, people will own and care for cars they way they do horses now. In other words, cars will be a diversion or a hobby and not an essential form of transportation.

Space tourism anyone?

Virgin Galactic (https://www.virgingalactic.com/) and Blue Origin -https://www.blueorigin.com/ - offer flights for those who obsess about space travel (and can afford it).

And if you have fantasies about colonizing Mars, (and the idea of a permanent one-way trip doesn’t put you off) you might want to check out Mars One (https://www.mars-one.com/) (I have to admit that if this opportunity would have been available to me when I was 18 or 19 years old, I would have been the first to sign up).  (3*)

Meanwhile, here on earth, Norway is (with the highest per capita ownership of electric cars, is developing electric aircraft -https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/18/norway-aims-for-all-short-haul-flights-to-be-100-electric-by-2040.

How about life-span extension? Want to live a thousand years? Some people say it can be done – and even that the first person to live a thousand years has already been born: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/live-longer-longevity-stem-cells-ageing-a8332701.html.

Whether we live a thousand years, or even just a few decades longer than our ancestors, the reigning assumption is that we will – or at least are capable of – living far longer than previous generations.

Whether we want to – or will be able to afford to – are entirely different questions.

Will robots take our jobs?

It’s not immigrants that will take our jobs, it’s AI (artificial intelligence) and robots large and small.

In many areas, thanks to technology, work will never  be the same. Many jobs, too boring, dangerous or toxic for humans will be delegated to machines. Many of us, from longshore workers to those in the timber industry will be thankful – others will long for the return of legacy industries.

Many of us will have life-saving medical procedures not dreamed of a generation ago.

But either way, our cultural and economic landscape will never be the same.  (4*)

You can see if – and when – a robot will take your job here – https://willrobotstakemyjob.com/.

The bottom line is that we are never going back. Work, communications and travel will never be the same. Some industries will adapt and some will disappear.

Our focus, as always, should be on those industries that endure and serve us best.

Nostalgia is great, but it should never overwhelm our practical needs, our enduring values and our common sense.

What was once a great – even innovative breakthrough – DVDs for example – now seem clumsy (and fill boxes at almost every garage sale).

Technology and outsourcing are throwing into chaos the world of work, employment and job searching.

When more people work at Arby’s (when was the last time you – or anyone you know – ate there?) than work in the entire coal industry, you know that our economic direction – and priorities – have shifted.  (5*)

 

(1*)    Founded, almost accidentally, in 1991, Linux is the OS that underpins Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and so many other services we depend on almost as much as food or oxygen.

(2*)    If you live in a big city, one of the things you quickly learn is what a nuisance and expense owning, storing and parking a car can be.

(3*)    As you might imagine, a one way trip to Mars is not for everyone. See if you fit their personality profile here – https://www.mars-one.com/faq/selection-and-preparation-of-the-astronauts/what-are-the-qualifications-to-apply.

(4*)    https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2018/04/18/will-robots-and-ai-take-your-job-the-economic-and-political-consequences-of-automation/

(5*)    And yes, who knows if Arby’s will exist in five years? Or newspapers? Or gas stations? Or schools?