'Milwaukee Art Museum Detail' by Hometown Invasion Tour Several years ago (okay, more than a decade) there was a great keynote speech by James Burke at ACM 97 where he talked about ‘The Next 50 Years of Computing’.  Now, if you’ve seen James Burke’s Connections series, you know what he’s good at.  Describing the intertwining relationships of time, technology, and happenstance.

Here, a decade or so later, I’ve been thinking how true those words are.  At the time, Windows 95 was still new, Microsoft Outlook was in it’s initial ‘1.0’ release, and the browser wars of Netscape vs. Internet Explorer were on, and Google was still a dream to be developed.  Back then, I was waist deep in technology as a Novell NetWare and then Windows NT “expert”, and loving it.  It was all about connecting computers together, and getting businesses connected to the Internet.  Email and ICQ were HOT.

Fast forward a decade, and so much has changed.  Where cell phones were a luxury that businesses could barely afford to sponsor, they’re now the de facto communication device of nearly all of us (who needs a land line).  Why have browser wars when you can have 5 to choose from that all have a spot on your Start Menu?  Where we used to pay upwards of $30/month for 56k dialup access, today most folks pay about that much for about 100 times that speed.  Heck, we have faster connections on our cell phones than we did at home back then.  GPS was a nifty gadget where you could plot waypoints to your favorite fishing hole; today, we have full-on navigation packages built into our vehicles to guide us anywhere.  The list is endless.

The point I’m getting at is the change all these things have made to our culture.  We’ve brought the concepts of democratization to technologies and industries that we used to think impenetrable.  Through citizen journalism and social media, we’ve toppled once powerful institutions.  We’ve squeezed huge entertainment companies to the point that they lash out at their own customers because they can’t find a new business model.  The people of the United States felt they had a real voice that was listened to in the selection of their latest President.

All this is through the incredible advancements in technology that changes our culture.

A decade ago in that keynote by James Burke, he talked about how developed countries were 50 years ahead of underdeveloped countries, and how this pattern would repeat into the future.  I believe we’ve sped up the process and are much farther down that path than we believe.  We are living in a future that our parents could never have dreamt of.  We have the opportunities available to us at the touch of an iPhone that a decade ago weren’t thought possible.

My question then, is what will you do with the advantage of living in the future?

Photo credit: Hometown Invasion Tour



As a note, if you follow the link to the ACM97 slide deck and videos, I just want to point out that it was compiled a long time ago and is not as polished as we see today on YouTube.  Just remember that as you go through it.  It’s still a great presentation, by a master at telling stories of history and technology.  Oh, and I did try to find it elsewhere without luck.

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