Thursday, June 1, 2017

Technology Retrospective



No. 1    More installments to come...
From the first Apple computers to NetScape, fiber optics infrastructure to the software diaspora, the technological developments of the late 20th Century have had a lasting impact on the modern world.  It is vitally important to study the technological, economic, and cultural changes that took place twenty and thirty years ago, especially as young people developing new technologies today.  When considering people like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, the lesser known (to today’s generation, anyways) James H. Clark, and even older innovators such as Ray Kurzweil, we have to consider the various benefits from the technologies that they themselves envisioned, and then weigh that with what actually came into reality.  While they all certainly got money, and loads of it, most had another goal in mind; to change the world forever, by making it a more productive, leisurely, and accommodating one.  What we feel most evidently sometimes, however, is not what they wanted, but the undesirable outcomes that may have been unavoidable.  
One rather superfluous, but nonetheless entertaining, detail of this tech progression comes from the development of the Apple 1 in 1976.  Designed in Steve Wozniak's bedroom in Los Altos, California, Steve Jobs decided to sell the personal computer enthusiasts kit, fully assembled for $666.66.  That the number of the devil spearheaded the personal computer revolution to follow may be indicative to some of the monumental change that has ensued over the following forty one years, including a severe drop in average economic growth, from around 5% per year in the 50’s to just 2% today.  To others, it would rightly mean nothing.
This venture into computational devices has also dramatically increased our overall workplace productivity, which is highly apparent to almost anyone who lived through the shift in eras.  Although the transformation is a fascinating one in regards to entertainment, with the introduction of personal gaming devices and PC’s, the most earth shattering developments were in the world of business.   Pre internet-tech-revolution, the common practice of most businesses was downright arduous compared to today.  With every piece of data being written on paper, it was both a less productive process, and a more wasteful one.  To quote Thomas L. Friedman about the influence of the internet on modern businesses, “The fact that all of your departments within your company were seamlessly interoperable and that work could flow between them was a great boost to productivity. . .” (Friedman, pg. 74)
What made all of this possible was the fiber-optic bubble of the late 1990’s.  Massive over speculation of the demand for data traffic over these cables resulted in millions of dollars being invested into an absolutely unreasonable amount of newer and better cables going all over the world.  The interesting piece of technology here is that the capacity to transmit data across the wires does not rely on the size of the wire itself, but on the capabilities of the transmitter and receiver at either end.  Fiber optic cables work by bouncing waves of light down long tubes of plastic or glass in mathematical pattern, to then be deciphered on the other side of the world.  That is exactly where the technology has been developed over the last twenty years, allowing for more and more data to be transmitted and received.  Described by Friedman on page 70, who compares it to a “national highway system where people were first allowed to drive 50 mph, then 60 mph, then 70 mph, then 80 mph, then eventually 150 mph on the same highways without any fear of accidents,” it is the “gift that keeps on giving.”   
In hindsight, we know what the dangers of the internet and personal computing devices such as cellphones can bring.  Social isolation instead of social inclusion, and as some would argue, the reason for increased anxiety.   The researcher Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University, San Diego California published in 2014 a report stating that “Across four surveys (N = 6.9 million), Americans reported substantially higher levels of depressive symptoms, particularly somatic symptoms, in the 2000s–2010s compared to the 1980s–1990s.”  Is this paradigm shift brought on by the internet responsible for such an increase in anxiety? Coinciding perfectly with the proliferation of comprehensive internet services such as NetScape and Windows 95, propped up by the fiber optics bubble of the late 1990’s, all of which paved the way to social media of the 2000’s and 2010’s, it is well worth consideration.  
The two words to sum up these developments are unparalleled connectivity.  The trend that was started forty years ago was that of personalization.  People slowly became economic individuals, in control of their own day, career, and destiny.  To combine that with the ability to collaborate with the best talents from all over the world, from anywhere in the world, equates to a kind of potential that is absolutely inconceivable to anyone that has not lived in it.  And that is exactly where we find ourselves today, as young impending high school graduates, with all of the ability in the world to make the next revolutionizing technology.  We have the freedom to choose where we stand, and where we innovate, on a broad spectrum of values; weighing both individualism over community, and commercialism over neutralization.  What Steve Wozniak and Jobs did was give us the freedom of independence.
Works Cited
Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Globalized World in the Twenty-first Century. London: Allen Lane, 2005. Print.
Mesa, Andy F. "Apple 1." Apple Museum. N.p., 1998. Web. 23 May 2017.
Twenge, Jean M. "Time Period and Birth Cohort Differences in Depressive Symptoms in the U.S., 1982–2013." SpringerLink. Springer Netherlands, 05 June 2014. Web. 23 May 2017.
"United States GDP Annual Growth Rate  1948-2017 | Data | Chart | Calendar." Trading Economics, 2017. Web. 23 May 2017.

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