Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Every Generation Gets Its Own Technology

Mainframes and minis had been around for quite some time when personal computers came around in the late 1970s. The mainframe people looked at the PC through the lens of the mainframe, and saw all that the PC couldn't do.  But the PC people didn't focus on what a micro couldn't do, they looked on what the micro could do. And in the process, we created solutions to problems that mainframes just weren't suited to do.  So much creative energy, determination, and economic motivation was brought to bear on the PC that it only took 15 years or so for the commercially available microcomputer to go from office toy to dominant office technology.

Today, the winds of change are blowin' at hurricane force.  Mobile technology is maturing rapidly.  At the moment, it's replacing large segments of what we've relied on PCs to do.  But the exciting bit about mobile technology isn't replacing things that we already do.  Just as PCs became the dominant technology by doing entirely new things, mobile will enable us to do entirely new things.  

I was fortunate to grow up during the birth and rise of the PC, and make a career largely linked to their evolution. It made for exciting times, particularly the early days: the hardware advanced quickly, the application software improved by leaps and bounds each year, programming languages came and went, entirely new tech segments sprang up and in some cases died out just as fast.  But best of all, businesses made dramatic changes to how they operated and what they did in response to this affordable, and increasingly powerful, technology.  PC technology has become a bit stale of late, but it's on a 30 year run, and it's been pretty good.

Technology is constantly being re-invented, which means it can liberate just as much as it binds.  Microcomputers gave my generation the opportunity to invent an entirely new computing paradigm that was free of the restrictions of what came before it.  Mobile gives my daughter's generation the opportunity to do the same.  Here's hoping she's one of those who pushes the boundaries to overthrow the concepts and limitations imposed by the microcomputer order.

Or better yet, that she's one of those who defines the technology beyond "mobile".