My life in technology

3 Apr

On the eve of a milestone birthday, I've been looking back on the technologies that have inspired or influenced me.

1960s: The space race. I don't remember JFK's commitment at the start of the decade to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth, though I've since read this speech. But I do remember the grainy black and white images of the space walk, and the famous fluffed line: 'one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind'.

Perhaps it wasn't such a giant leap, but it was a galvanising moment. Like all primary school children in the sixties, I thought life by the year 2000 was going to be a pill-popping space adventure. Wrong.

1970s: This was the hard one, as it was a decade of inflation and industrial decline. But my paragraphs above give some clues. For me, the seventies was about Concorde and colour television.

I remember the sight of Concorde on its test flights above Bristol in about 1970 and can still recall the name of the test pilot – Brian Trubshaw.* We now know Concorde to have been an expensive failure, but it was a technical and aesthetic triumph and a sign of the international cooperation that continues with Airbus at the same Filton site today.

It's hard to imagine what colour televison meant, but for the only time in my life I was willing to watch golf because of the green, green grass. I could have looked out of the window, of course, but television held my attention.

1980s: Though computers were a rarity at the start of the decade and I had paid someone to type up my hand-written university dissertations, the technology of the eighties that most excited me was the personal computer.

Acorn or BBC Micro? Mac or IBM PC? PC or PS/2? These were compelling quesions and by the middle of the decade I was shuttling between magazine offices in London and New York reporting on business technology. By the end of the decade I was a public relations consultant with some of the best clients in the global technology industry.

1990s: Windows and the World Wide Web. Those early PCs were standalone, with monochrome screens, and running MS-DOS. Windows 3.0 was a revelation when launched in 1990. Thought the importance of the operating system is now diminished because of the World Wide Web, I will group them together in my review of the decade. I wasn't a web early adopter, but I created my first personal web page in 1995.

2000s: Smartphones and the social web. Tim Berners-Lee had the vision, but most of us did not have the technology or the bandwidth to realise the potential until this decade. I'd been talking about internet telephony and internet appliances in the 1990s and it had seemed fanciful. Now Skype is unremarkable and we're talking about the 'internet of things'. The social web is a reminder that technology is not the answer in itself; it's how people use technology that's exciting.

I'd been testing not-very mobile phones in the 1980s; owning smaller ones throughout the 1990s, but it's only in the last decade that the promise of the mobile internet has become a reality (remember WAP?). 

* I now remember much less, relying increasingly on Google to act as my memory bank. 'The cloud' deserves a mention in this review (that talk of PCs and operating systems is an irrelevance now.)

6 Responses to “My life in technology”

  1. Rob Francis Clarke 03/04/2011 at 11:28 pm #

    Growing up doing PR in the tech industry at that time must have been incredible. I know we’re constantly reinventing and discovering new things now, but working in that industry during the birth of the home computer and the internet? I’m jealous.
    I was lucky enough to have a PC in the early 90s, and I used to use a modem to connect to BBS when I was a kid, I remember being utterly amazed at the concept of downloading files back then. I remember my parents being slightly less amazed at our £400 phone bill…
    I’d love to have that sense of wonder about technology now that I had back then, but my cynicism gets in the way. The last thing I really got excited about was the first time I used broadband after being on dial-up for 8 years.

  2. KatyBA 04/04/2011 at 8:42 am #

    So, dare you try to forecast what will mark the coming few decades?

  3. Richard Bailey 04/04/2011 at 9:42 am #

    Scepticism – but perhaps not cynicism – is helpful, Rob.
    Most of these technologies have been over-hyped. Only the WWW, with no commercial backer, was undersold by the modest Sir Tim Berners-Lee. And Google emerged ‘suddenly by stealth’ in an understated public relations campaign.
    As to the future, Katy? Well, I’m a historian so prefer the comfort of looking backwards. I think the clues are in people: technology for technology’s sake is nothing, but the capacity of people to adopt and adapt technology is infinite. It’s what we’ve been doing for about a million years, so I tend not to get too preoccupied by the next few.

  4. Penny 04/04/2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Very happy birthday. You can relive your dreams of hover cars and food in pill form here http://www.paleofuture.com/ . I heartily recommend browsing through it as an antidote to the present!

  5. Helena Makhotlova 04/04/2011 at 4:01 pm #

    A very elegant wrap-up of the last 5 decades in a technological context of personal reminiscences. I’m thinking that we’re very much blessed to live in these times of such a rapid change of cultural paradigms.
    Because you’re absolutely right – it’s adoption and adaption of technology that makes a real difference or not. I’m also a bit jealous of the richness of your perspective – but I think my son is going to be more jealous of me: he doesn’t know “better” than YouTube on the touch screen with a broadband🙂
    Happy Birthday, Richard! Looking forward to your recap of the next 5 decades!

  6. Paul Seaman 05/04/2011 at 6:21 am #

    Happy Birthday!!

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