Tuesday, August 11, 2015

2015 vs. 1910 - which era has more future shock?

Remember Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (helps to be old)?

Wikipedia, via this:

"Toffler argues that society is undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to a "super-industrial society". This change will overwhelm people, the accelerated rate of technological and social change will leave them disconnected, suffering from "shattering stress and disorientation" – future shocked. Toffler stated that the majority of social problems were symptoms of the future shock. In his discussion of the components of such shock, he also coined the term "information overload”."

Toffler was wrong about his era, and probably wrong in general. 21st century China shows humans can tolerate a vast amount of technological and social change and keep on moving on. Future Shock is more like a winter carpet zap than a lightning strike.

It can still sting though. This past week, for example, we realized landlines are finally gone — at least in Minneapolis St Paul. 

Yeah, I know. They were supposed to be dead years ago. Ahh, but that’s the trick. What I remember in 1994 is that by 2000 we were all going to have fiber to the home; voice communication would be VOIP and too cheap to meter. It didn’t work out that way. It’s easy to predict the Future, it’s hard to predict when the Future will happen.

Instead landlines seemed to slowly fade. No big changes. For various reasons we kept our home number on a landline. We didn’t notice that Saint Paul Minnesota was down to a a single provider of landline services - CenturyLink. We didn’t notice the 30% drop in CenturyLink's share price. Then one day our CenturyLink landline malfunctioned, we lost net service, and we couldn’t get it repaired. We’ve been without landline service for two weeks; a repair guy may drop in this Thursday. Maybe.

I switched our net services to the only alternative our benighted metro area has - Comcast. I forwarded the home number to our cell, and, because our security system is landline based, we wait for a repair while figuring out what to do with our identity-associated home phone number.

The line will be repaired, or not, but that won’t change the fact that for Saint Paul, Minnesota, the landline era really has ended. A wee bit of Future Shock for old folk, and a minor puzzle for our kids (who have almost no understanding of how anything connects to anything else).

Which makes me think, again, about how this era compares to the early 20th century, when horses went from vehicle to entrée, the kerosene industry collapsed, and balloons turned into airplanes. Consider the auto transition - the first mast produced automobiles were sold by Olds in 1902, by 1910 there were more automobiles than horse buggies, and by 1920 buggies were mostly gone. So a 20 year transition. Not that different from the timeline of our landline decline, but far more disruptive.

On the other hand, landlines and horse buggies are physical things. They have a lot of momentum. What about transitions in virtual things? Can the speed of transition there make our era more bewildering than, say, 1910?

On reflection, I have to say not. That automobile transition is truly incredible. We still can’t compare. Maybe when the AIs take over..

See also

No comments: