The Way it Was and the Way it Will Be

by Ben Bajarin   |   November 9th, 2012

My family and I have been up visiting my wife’s grandparents up near the Oregon-California border. We have visited this old-fashioned town many times but today a thought occurred to me as I looked at a dictionary prominently displayed in the living room.

The Websters Dictionary is from 1957 and just over 2300 pages long. It is old enough that the word computer states “one who computes, a reckoner, a calculater.” What strikes me when I look at that picture is not just how much things have changed–since that is undeniable (that entire book is replaced on the iPad with a 20mb app–but rather how many analog process we find commonly in our houses today that will someday be replaced by objects yet to be dreamed up.

I look at our grandparents and parents houses and find many low-tech things. I look around my house and find many high-tech things. But I wonder how many of the high-tech state of the art electronics I have today will look low tech, or be entirely foreign to my grandkids.

My children have no idea what a typewriter is or did. I wonder if their kids will have any idea what a PC is or did.

Will tablets still be around, will smartphones have evolved into something else entirely, or perhaps communications will be embedded into every screen embedded into countless electronics all over the public and private sphere.

It’s fun to dream.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • FalKirk

    I remember asking my dad a question and he would pop up and say: “Let’s look it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica!” And I would moan: “Oh dad!”

    Now my kids ask me questions and I say: “Let’s Google it” or “Let’s ask Siri”. And my kids moan: “Oh dad!”

    Some things change. Some things never change.

    • rattyuk

      Sad that I never got around to buying the EB. But information changed too quickly for it to stay relevant.

      • FalKirk

        You’re right, Ratty. The books were always out of date and they took up a whole wall in one room.

        Today, information is updated instantly. We truly do live in the information age.

    • steve_wildstrom

      A while back I bought a copy of the NIST “Handbook of Functions” for $2 at a used book sale. This work consists of computed values for a vast number of mathematical functions–trig, logs, and many more. Generations of engineers and mathematicians found it indispensable. Now it is a historical curiosity, along with the CRC “Handbook of Chemistry and Physics” that sits next to it on the bookshelf.

  • Rich

    Ben, if you *really* want to dream about the tech future, read Ray Kurzweil.

    However I do have two complaints about him: (1) He only thinks about technology and doesn’t appear to consider social factors (which are huge) and environmental factors such as energy questions and climate change (which may be even bigger). (2) He seems to confuse intelligence with will, or wanting something. They’re not the same.

    • mhikl

      Good points, Rich. Climate change is an interesting one. Two points of view seem prevalent: the earth soon will boil, the earth soon will freeze. Cycles suggest investing in parkas. All round, not such good stuff’s a comin’.

      The future that we try to see is always limited by our lock into the past and present. How much further computers in all possible forms will develop may be limited by tinkering with what we already have—or may take some crazy turns few have yet to visualise. Let’s hope Apple isn’t so limited.
      I suspect the next great steps in technologies that are very soon to come are free energy as proposed by Tesla/Hutchison & a plethora of others from their basement laboratories; and the overturn of Allopathy. The latter has failed miserably over the past 100 years; the former has been subjugated by powerful special interests for nearly the same time.

      I too find Kurzweil limited. There are others who speak for all times and 1984 will always be fresh.

      Ben, gem of an article; from dreams come great inspirations. One of my favourite stories is of Edison and his power naps for inspiration to tricky questions.
      http://www.wilywalnut.com/Thomas-Edison-Power-Napping.html