The Premise of SadTech
Have you ever talked with a senior citizen and heard the stories? Senior citizens love to tell about how they did things "way back when." For example, I know people who, when they were kids, lived in shacks, pulled their drinking water out of the well with a bucket, had an outhouse in the back yard and plowed the fields using a mule and a hand plow. These people are still alive and kicking -- it was not that long ago that lots of people in the United States routinely lived that way.
My father used to tell stories about using his slide rule in college and on the job -- a practice immortalized in the film Apollo 13. I myself did some of my earliest computer programming using punch cards, or toggling in programs on the front panel of an IMSAI 8080.
If you go to Williamsburg you can see demonstrations of people picking seeds out of cotton by hand, then carding the cotton by hand, then spinning the cotton by hand on a spinning wheel to create a strand of yarn, then weaving that yarn by hand into cloth, and then finally sewing that cloth into a shirt using a needle and thread and a thimble.
When we look at this kind of stuff from today's perspective, it is so sad. The whole idea of spending 200 man-hours to create a single shirt is sad. The idea of typing a program one line at a time onto punch cards is sad, and Lord help you if you ever dropped the deck. The idea of pulling drinking water up from the well by the bucketful or crapping in a dark outhouse on a frigid winter night is sad. Even the thought of using the original IBM PC in 1982, with its 4.77 MHz processor, single-sided floppy disk and 16 KB of RAM is sad when you look at it just 20 years later. Now we can buy machines that are 1,000 times faster and have a million times more disk space for less than $1,000.
But think about it -- the people who used these technologies at the time thought that they were on the cutting edge. They looked upon themselves as cool, hip, high-tech people:
- At the time, people using the 4.77 MHz IBM PC thought they were cutting edge, especially since they didn't have to load the programs in from cassette tape. Today we look back at the 4.77 MHz PC with a single floppy drive as pathetic, but in 1982 it was the cutting edge.
- At the time, the people who spent two weeks riding to California on a steam train thought they were cutting edge. It beat the heck out of riding there in a horse-drawn stage coach. Today we look back at train travel as pathetic as we fly to California in jumbo jets.
- The first people to buy a Model T Ford thought they were cutting edge. They would go out and crank the car by hand, and that was cool because it beat the heck out of saddling up a horse. Today we look back at the Model T as pathetic.
The point is, at any moment in history, people thought of themselves as cool and cutting edge and modern, even though we now look back on them as primitive troglodytes. Their technologies are pathetic when compared to the technologies that we have today.
Now we come to the premise of this website. Try to project yourself forward to the year 2050. Think about how someone in 2050 will look back at the way we are living today. Think about the stories you will tell to your grandchildren and great grandchildren in 2050 about your life back at "the turn of the century." People will look at us like we are primitive troglodytes, and they will laugh at the technologies and practices that we today consider to be "modern" and "cutting edge" and "cool." Today the iPod is cool, but in 2050 it will seem pathetic and silly. The things that are the coolest today will look so sad in 2050...