Digital Perspectives from an Analog Guy
By Eric Wright
My grandmother, who was born in 1888 and lived to be 93, witnessed a period of technological advancement unparalleled in human history up to that point. One of the most well-read individuals I ever knew, with a razor sharp intellect right up until she died, she could describe to me in vivid detail what it was like the first time she saw an automobile, talked on a telephone, heard a radio and saw an airplane or TV! Perhaps what is equally astonishing is she lived to see her son, my father, become an engineer and part of the NASA team that actually landed men on the moon and launched a reusable Space Shuttle.
After talking with her, I used to ask myself, “What would it be like to live through that kind of technological development?” Now that I have a 4-year-old grandson, I am sure the world I grew up in without PC’s or cell phones, a handful of TV channels and information coming from encyclopedias that took up an entire book shelf, will seem as ancient and exotic to him as my grandmother recalling her memories of Teddy Roosevelt as a president was to me.
I am hardly a “techie.” In fact, the younger members of our design and editorial team kindly refer to my lack of digital familiarity with the nickname “Analog.” Yet, I appreciate technology and its potential perhaps more than any of our young associates, because I have seen such incredible advances in my own lifetime. I’m like the guy who can’t draw a stick figure but loves the Louvre.
Beam Me Up Scotty
Think about this amazing statement by the American Energy Innovation Council: “If today’s computer chips were the same size and cost as they were in 1975, Apple’s iPod would cost $1 billion and be the size of a building.”
Or consider a conversation I had at an event to announce a new collaborative venture between the Mayo Clinic Care Network and Parrish Medical Center in Titusville. After the fanfare and speeches, I was talking to the two representatives of Mayo, CEO of Mayo Clinic Florida William Rupp, M.D. and Stephen Lange, M.D., Mayo’s southeast medical director. Separately I asked them, “What is the most arresting new medical breakthrough on the horizon?” Instead of the guarded corporate-speak I often hear, both of them became like Trekkies waiting to meet Leonard Nimoy, “Oh, organ and tissue regeneration. We’ve got a ways to go, but it’s no longer just theoretical,” they said excitedly. “You’re talking about growing organs from cells, right?” I asked. “Yes,” they each responded.
When people bemoan the threat or intrusion of malignant technology, I think about my grandmother riding to her father’s store in a horse-drawn wagon, while my grandson will one day arrive at school in a car that drives itself. At birth, her life expectancy was less than 50, while his, in all likelihood, will be over 100.
Though I’m not messianic about technology’s potential, I’m quite optimistic about its ability to make our lives and our societies better. It will enable us to work and communicate from anywhere, develop new products that give us more time to create and be with our families, while addressing many of the challenges that cause people to fret about the future.
“When I took office, only high energy physicists had ever heard of what is called the Worldwide Web. Now even my cat has its own page.” – Former President Bill Clinton