There is a poignant scene in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”. In a large office, there are rows of women typists each one punching away furiously on a typewriter. The air is full of the clatter of typewriter keys and the registers moving the type heads back and down one line on the paper. These women are typing out telegrams to inform mothers and dear ones about the death in battle of their sons. When I was growing up, if I needed a report formally done I would tell my Dad and he would take it to his office to be typed up. If there were spelling mistakes the work had to be done more than once. After I graduated from engineering school, as a fresh entrant into the workforce, I was impressed by the new electronic typewriters which solved so many of the issues of the old typewriter. There was still a ribbon and a typehead, but now there was also an erase ribbon to delete characters or words and type over them again. This eliminated the need for whitening fluid. Then in a matter of time the computer and word processing software arrived.
While I may have revealed my age here, I think you get the drift about my favorite topic, the inevitable and inexorable march of technology. What is hot and state of the art right now will be obsolete tomorrow. It took decades to replace the old typewriter, now it takes months and even days for new technologies to replace the old. This is the exponential rate of increase in technological change. Like the dinosaur, you can only see a typewriter now in a museum or in a movie.
Let’s take a look at the next wave of dinosaurs of the future – things we are familiar with today that will soon cease to exist completely or at least not in their current state.
Now that’s an easy one to warm up with right? The internet has completely changed the future of the newspaper (which is probably a good step anyway to save trees and the future of this planet). The Huffington Post seems more popular and readily available than the Washington Post. Newspapers with storied names that existed for decades, some for a century or more have now folded. What was once a breakfast staple with coffee is nearing extinction. The smart companies have taken to the web and smart phones as apps. Personally, I had abandoned the printed newspaper for web news in the late 90’s. The only exception was the weekend Washington Post for the coupons, puzzles and comic strips. I now have three apps on my smartphone that provide me with coupons depending on where I am. Sudoku, chess or any other brain teaser, there is an app for that now. So much so that my kids hijack my smartphone to play those games. The nation’s capital Washington, DC has a museum called the Newseum. That is where the printed newspaper will eventually be consigned to.
The newspaper reporter was an intrepid breed, venturing out to strange lands, countries and continents. They reported on emperors, kings, sheikhs and beys or from far away battlefields reporting the “news” that enthralled people. It also gave them the power to craft the news and therefore public opinion. Today, thanks to the spread of the internet, social media and mobile phones every owner of a mobile device is a reporter. We see daily evidence of this on TV with video and photos taken of street battles in Syria, the Tahrir square revolution in Egypt, or the university cop leisurely spraying pepper spray on non-violent students. Reporting has moved to the very edge with people reporting in from where they are and some news organizations like CNN have capitalized on it with their iReports capability. On Social Media, a new and vast breed of reporter has been created that has a loyal following and reports news on a variety of topics. A few years down the road, I doubt if anyone would be considering reporting as a profession.
Books, book stores and libraries
About a decade ago, one of the places where I used to see people reading books was the Washington, DC metro. When you were on a train underground and all you could see out the window is black, the professional metro rider took to his or her books. Of late, some nine out of ten of these riders read on their kindles, nooks, iPads and smartphones. It’s getting harder to see paper and glue books on the train and this is a sign of things to come. The web and smart, devices have converted paper to bytes which are easy to buy, borrow and stream. Google’s ambitious project to scan every book in every library is a splendid effort that will put a gazillion books at the fingertips of any child or person with a device that can access these bytes. I read extensively and enjoy holding a book in my hands. However, the printed book’s days are numbered and future generations might gaze at books through glass windows in a museum. Do I need to say any more about the consequences this will have for book stores and libraries? My prediction is that these will vanish from brick and mortar existence to bytes and swipes existence on the internet. Borders was the biggest example that sank like a titanic. Barnes & Noble and all the others won’t be far behind. As Government budgets recede, the same will happen to libraries. Those facilities might serve a better purpose as gyms to foster physical fitness.
My wife and I are big movie buffs and we try to catch a good movie once a week if the kids go to sleep on time. It’s a pleasant escape from reality and if the story is actually good, that makes it even better. When Netflix started up and they began sending DVDs via mail that we had selected online, it eliminated the painful trip to the Blockbuster or other movie stores. None of these stores exist in our neighborhood anymore. It was inevitable that with the increasing speeds of our broadband connections that movies and TV would be streamed over the internet. We now watch most of our movies streamed with the infrequent DVD thrown in. After much rumination, I assembled the needed components and built our own home theater in our basement. Now, we rarely even go out to the movie theater. There is nothing better than sprawling on your own couch with a bowl of homemade (low-calorie) popcorn and a glass of wine while watching a movie. The only reason I would go to a movie theater nowadays is to take my kids to a 3D movie. This is why the movie industry nowadays makes most movies in 3D, otherwise most theaters are empty. However, with the increased availability of 3D TVs and projectors, that last rationale for going to a movie theater will also vanish. All I can say is, if you hold stock in a company that runs movie theaters dump them.
In a former position, I used to work with some really smart computer science guys who specialized in graphics. It is a fascinating world of math and color. Fast forward to the present, computer graphics or CG and CG animation are part of all our movies and what we see on TV. The most spectacular battles, historical scenes, storms and naval armadas can be created out of nothing through CG animation. As processors got faster, the smoothness and richness of this animation has grown in leaps and bounds. The movie “300” about the Spartans and their last stand at Thermopylae was shot completely in a large warehouse. Almost everything was animation. Gollum, the little creature in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was an animation with the movements coming from a human wearing a blue suit. Recently, I took my kids to watch Spielberg’s movie Tintin. This was a completely CG animated movie. I have never seen more realistic animation of characters, cityscapes and moving water. When we drove back home, my kids were amazed to learn that the entire movie was an animation, they thought it was real actors. With the progression of technology and software, it is inevitable that sometime in the future movies will not need human actors. Graphics specialists can create the prettiest Angelina Jolie successor, a more muscular Terminator or just the craziest possible creatures. The movie stars then making millions might be some very smart CG programmers.
“May you live in interesting times” is an interesting quotation. I think we do. So what do you think? Let me know.