I originally posted this to my ex-blog on Nov. 25, 2006. Linkrot prevents me from pointing to it elegantly, so here goes again…
Turn the clock back two or three decades — three to be safe — and consider what technologies the average office worker had to master. From today’s perspective, 1976 was pretty simple. You had to wrangle:
- Dialing through a PBX (9 for an outside line, 8 for long distance?)
- A typewriter or dedicated word processor. Maybe. Remember Wang?
- A calculator. On occasion. (My HP-12C still works with its original batteries)
- A photocopier. Now and then. Too early for fax.
Today? Yeesh! Here’s a start:
- Cellphones (voice dialing? camphone? carrier? roaming? Web? apps?)
- Office phones (still that pesky internal dialing)
- Voicemail systems for each phone (with different command structures)
- BlackBerry (with its own email app and commands)
- Microsoft Windows or Mac OS
- The Office suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint (oy, PowerPoint!), Outlook
- Antivirus and backup apps; avoiding Trojans and phishing
- Printers (toner!) and corporate networks
- WiFi snargling so you find and keep a connection
- IDs and passwords for everything; password management
- IM (SameTime, AIM, Yahoo, ICQ, Google Talk)
- The browser(s) (IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari) and their lingo
- Google searches
- Web-based email (Hotmail, GMail)
- Other Web apps (Basecamp, Wikipedia, Yahoo Finance, Salesforce.com)
- Possibly Skype or some SIP or VoIP apps
- And iTunes isn’t really a business app, but really…
So I have a lot of empathy for people in business these days, who are expected to perform 120 percent of 1976’s duties with 30 percent of the support staff. In the 90s, Neutron Jack led the way to skinnying out all those extraneous people and making sure nobody has enough time to really think anymore.
I expect the current wave of innovation will take another ten to 15 years to shake out. At that point, many things that are mystifying today (e.g., why are mailing lists and discussion forums separate pieces of software? why are we still typing in contact info from business cards?) will disappear. And with luck, we’ll have figured out how to talk to one another well by then.