A friend of mine shared a link on Google+ today, that set me thinking.

It a (condensed) life story of an 86 year old man. A man who adopted to different technologies as and when they where invented, whereas his children didn’t. I’d go and give it a read, here is a link. I’d highly recommend reading it. You’ll have to zoom in, though, as it’s a massive file.

Not only is it an exceptional story, but it’ll help put this post into context

I’ll give you a few minutes to read through the one-shot web-comic that I’ve just linked. Go on, I’ll still be here when you come back.

Truly Astonishing Times

After I’d read that web-comic, I was speechless. When I found my voice again (read: “recovered from the message in the web-comic”), I felt compelled to write this comment on the Google+ post:

All those things. Can you imagine going through the birth, adoption and abandonment of different technologies and ideologies? I sure can’t.

I mean, I can remember not having a mobile phone or an email address. But I can’t really remember what it was like in the late 80’s/early 90’s (born in the mid 80’s).

I remember watching the footage of the “liberation of Iraq” or “occupation of Iraq” or whatever it was that they called it [from a few years back], but I don’t think I could imagine being told that the whole world is at war.

I have fond memories of playing on my Nes, Mega Drive, N64, Playstation, Dreamcast, Xbox and such; but I don’t think I’ll ever experience what it’s like to realise that you can play a game (one that would take a very long time to set up otherwise) on your TV, in seconds.

I remember my first mp3 player, but I can’t imagine what it was like being told that you could get a whole LP record (both sides) onto a single compact disc. THEN being told that you can fit your entire music library on a tiny device that fits in your pocket. AND that you can have more music in your library in seconds.

We live in exceptionally astounding times, but I don’t think we ever take the time to sit back and realise what we have.

Mulling This Over

To be honest, being a computer programmer, I suppose that I have a great opportunity and an excellent position from which to view this all happening. But my problem is that I understand how most of it works  on a technical level.

Maybe not completely at first, but a little bit of digging and a whole lot of intuition/past experience helps

Less:

Push “play”

Listen to music

More:

User pushes “play”

Program sends message to Operating System

Operating System forwards message to program that is running

Program sends message to Operating System requesting permission for file from storage

Operating System sends file permission details back to program

Program hooks into codec database and intuits the type of file

Program de-compresses the file and sends packets of data to the Operating System, routed for the sound system

Sound system sends converts these data packets and sends them down the cable to the loud speaker/headphones

Whilst I don’t have the knowledge of a techo-voodoo-wizard, I can figure out most things and have the experience required to even figure out where the ideas came from or even design one of my own.

The Layman

I see the opposite end of my view point, almost daily.

Most of the people who come through the place where I work (at the minute) are from the Middle East and – readers are kindly asked to eschew politics and any preconceived ideas for a moment – a lot of them have never used “modern technology” before.

By “modern technology” I mean… well, I’ll provide you with an example:

I deliver IT classes to a bunch of such people. And one day I was giving a class on E-Mail and The Internet. It only considered simple stuff from a simple perspective. I remember saying things like “The Internet is a way of connecting all of the computers in the world, that way we can share things easier.”

Anyway, at one point I was walking around the group helping them to set up a free web based E-Mail account. I came across a guy who was staring at a blank screen. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“How do I turn this on?”

This guy was 23 years old, and had spent the last 4 years of his life in the UK. Yet, he’d never encountered a Laptop before.

That might sound stupid, but I come across it every day: people, both young and old, who have never had access to things that we consider “essential” technology in their lives.

 How many people do you know who can’t leave the house without taking their mobile phone with them?

Thinking About It

I’ve typed all of this in less than half an hour (including formatting, shoving links in, providing tagging and categories and location data), on a computer that is performing the following tasks at the same time:

  • Ripping (copying) a 10 CD album to a (mathematically) lossless, compressed format
  • Playing music located on a server (a type of computer) on the other side of planet
  • Running a script (small set of commands) that checks my 3 email inboxes ever few minutes
  • Providing me with intimate details about my CPU and network usage
  • Running 3 copies of Folding@Home (helping to provide mathematical information on the process of protein folding)
  • Providing me with up-to-the-minute information about the weather in my home town
  • Synchronising (copying music, movies, pictures and such to) my iPod touch
  • De-fragmenting (moving the individual parts of files closer together) an entire 500Gb hard drive
  • Running an modern Operating System
  • Downloading a few episodes of a web-based TV show

Along with that, I’m using a mouse and keyboard that have no cables or wires. I have, at my feet, a laser printer (high quality, expensive to set up, cheap to run) that is able to churn out printed pages faster than most ink-jet printers (medium-to-low quality, cheap to set up, ridiculously expensive to run) that I almost never use.

I was, earlier on today, watching several hours of video footage that was produced on the other side of the world and provided to me for free.

Meditating On It For A While

Seriously guys, we really do live in astounding times: I can press a button and have a TV signal streamed to my computer screen from Japan in seconds. You have to admit, that’s astounding.

And if not, then what is?

  • Storing an entire, and continually growing music library on a device that isn’t much bigger than a pocket notebook?
  • Chatting with friends in different time zones, while having a VoIP conversation (think “Skype”) with someone on the continent?
  • Buying Christmas shopping without having to leave the chair in front of my computer (except to get my credit card)?
  • Helping (albeit in a tiny way) to understand the spread of disease, terminal illness and genetic disorders WITHOUT HAVING TO DO A THING?
  • Using wireless devices to type commands and manipulate software from the other side of a room?
  • Touch screen devices that fit in your hand?
  • Reading your E-Mail on the train/at a bar/while waiting to see a doctor?
  • The ability to contact ANYONE at ANY TIME of the day or night?
  • A whole community of people coming together to help a small, or sometimes very large amount of people out?
  • E-Mailing/Personal Messaging/Whatever-ing a celebrity/musician/artist/band instantly AND RECEIVING A PERSONAL RESPONSE in a very short amount of time?

That reminds me that I should E-Mail Choke Sleeper again, some time

Any of these ring any bells with you? Imagine trying to perform these tasks 10 years ago. Hell, 5 years ago.

Something to think about, the next time you have some kind of technical trouble with your computer/smartphone/media player.

Until next time,

J

Jamie is a .NET developer specialising in ASP.NET MVC websites and services, with a background in WinForms and Games Development. When not programming using .NET, he is either learning about .NET Core (and usually building something cross platform with it), speaking Japanese to anyone who'll listen, learning about languages, writing for this blog, or writing for a blog about Retro Gaming (which he runs with his brother)