Reminiscing on the future of technology 

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While cleaning out my basement I came across a battered little green notebook. I had used the notebook while working as an electronic communications specialist in a state-of-the-art (at the time) Army telecommunications facility, with one computer in my entire section. I started looking through the pages and came across this entry, dated June 30, 1992:

Task: Small Multiuser computer.
1) I tried to find out (update) from the information center, and they referred me to Bob Shire. I called Mr. Shire and he stated that the 7th Signal Command has no need for a small, multiuser computer at this point. Our present system is now underutilized and we have a long way to go before we are saturated.

The one computer we had was so underutilized the military felt it was not worth buying another one!

Four years earlier, in 1988, I was stationed in Germany. A coworker of mine had a Zenith personal computer. I was jealous. When I asked my boss for one like my coworker, she looked and me and asked, “Ok, I’ll get a computer if you can tell me what you are going to use it for.” I must admit she got me! I didn't have a clue what I was going to do with a computer. I just wanted one because it would be a cool thing to have; they weren't ubiquitous as they are now.

25, 30 years ago is ancient history for younger generations. But for some, those 25-30 years seemed like a blink of the eye for society to change so dramatically.

How attached are you to your mobile phone? Do you send text, play games, talk, order food, use GPS, take photos, make movies, have teleconferences, send email with your mobile phone? Do you use it as an alarm clock and sit it beside your bed while you sleep? As a matter of fact, is your mobile phone ever more than an arms-length from you while you are awake and sleep?

In the last 30 years or so, we went from practically no computers in our daily lives to spending 86 hours a month on our computers/mobile device. And smart phone adaption has generally grown from five to 10 percent per year from 2004 to 2016.

Now reverse it. How you would spend your time without this technology at all? For some that would be unthinkable — that's how much society has changed.

Those born in the in or before the early '80s witnessed the life and death of the Beta Disk, VHS players, laser disks, Walkmans, DVDs in the mainstream American market. Phone booths, once a common site throughout the country, disappeared from our landscape without us even noticing, and Blockbusters seemingly closed overnight.

I can’t think of a time in history that technology has made such a drastic change in the world and our society in such a very short period of time. The invention of the printing press, considered by some to be the technology that has had the most impact on our lives, took over three hundred years before its impact on world literacy could be truly felt. We have yet to see the results of our current digital addiction, impaired social interaction — outside of our susceptibility to be easily distracted and our decreased attention spans. More byproducts of technology will start making their effects known through our digital natives: those that were born into the smart phone world.

I don't think we're in for the type of future depicted in so many science fiction books and movies, bleak and dystopian. But I do think we'll always need the naysayers, cynics and luddites in our world to help keep technology honest.

Thomas Russell is a high school information technology teacher and retired Army Signal Corps soldier. He is the founder of SEMtech (Student Engagement and Mentoring in Technology) and an Advisory Board Member of Educating Children of Color. His hobbies include writing, photography and hiking. Contact Thomas via Russell’s Room on Facebook, or email at thruss09@gmail.com, and his photography at thomasholtrussell.zenfolio.com.


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