Back in 1983 the division of the company I worked for bought an IBM personal computer and hard drive (they were an add-on, were only 10 MB and were about as expensive as the computer.) That was going to be our “competitive edge” or so said one of the senior executives. I inwardly rolled my eyes knowing that the rapid advance in the personal computer world / emerging technology would transform the business world as performance improved and prices dropped. I had already purchased a portable computer (ok…”luggable” would be a better description) that came with word processing software, a spreadsheet, and a database – and 20MB hard drive and for 50% of the costs of the new office computer. To put this in context, there was no Microsoft or MS-DOS. Unix or CPM were the operating systems de jour. OK … enough history. My point is that there is this underlying belief that technology would make our lives better – especially in the world of business.Over at the “On Tech” column of the NY Times, Shira Ovide, has an interesting article whose intent seems to be to add context to some of the tech business things you might be reading online or hearing on digital forums…. or perhaps even the evening news or newspapers!
One of the great hopes of the Internet is that is would bring “democracy” and a level playing field to the marketplace. The news is rife with stories of Apple, Google, Amazon, etc. being the spoiler and taking on the role of the new oligarchs of the economy. A woman who makes and sells craft items, notes that it is not that different. “Back in the day” she would have to make the circuit of potential stories, bargain with the owner for a 50/50 or 60/40 split, and then worry about what sold/what didn’t. These days she has a store front on Amazon Marketplace. The woman in quoted in Ms. Ovide’s article: “This is why I’m somewhat bemused with the issue of the App Store taking a commission for programmers’ apps. What is the difference between the App Store and the shop owner? Both are responsible for providing a place for display, for assuring the buyer of quality.” It is an interesting article, take a moment to read. It has a tone of same as it ever was.
And why am I blogging about it. Well… because it interests me and it might interest you. But at a deeper level, there are tangential outfalls of the age of science, the industrial revolution, and digital age and the others I have forgotten and the ones still to come. The promoters of the change will always up-sell on the possibilities while they (and us) can never see coming the effects of unintended consequences. At one level – at the marketplace – things are “same as they ever were.” But what about at the personal level?
Mobile phones are amazing. Way more computing power in that hand-held device that the 1983 computer. But back in 1983 when I left the office… I was no longer tethered to the office. We can’t say the same thing now. Technology promised to make us “more connected” and we are in good and bad ways.
When I was very young, my maternal grandparents lived in Utah. They might as well lived on Mars. Cross country travel was not like it is today. I met my grandmother once. 60 years later we could have be routine Facetime buddies. 60 years later the pandemic make everyone an expert on zoom-like products – which was a great way to stay connected during lock down. It makes we wonder what the “zoom” legacy will be going forward, especially in tethering us to work. A friend of mine was a financial advisor living in San Francisco with major clients on the East Coast and the Pacific Rim. There was always a market opening or closing somewhere and clients that wanted to connect. “Was” a financial advisor, retired now, quite comfortable financially, and getting used to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep and not being tethered.
But was that different from the 1960s and the high powered go-go days at IBM? Probably not.
Maybe the goal of my musing is that technology is just a connecting tool. Our task is to considered what we are tethered to. As a Franciscan and a priest, I have promised to pray the Divine Office daily. The Divine Office prayers are on my phone; if not the phone, a somewhat large awkward sized book – either way I am tethered. And I am very appreciative of the alarm on the phone calling me to prayer and the app that makes the prayers available.
So… interestingly, I left the business world, but I am still tethered to the Office, 24/7. In this case, its is same as it ever was…in a good way.