Wednesday, April 17, 2013

When the Amazing Becomes 'Merely' Normal


When Orville and Wilbur Wright first flew an airplane, the idea of a man-made machine flying was amazing. Now, people take it for granted — and even complain about delays, lost luggage and bad — or no — food onboard.

I was driving my family to the airport recently. We knew the airline, flight number and gate, but not which terminal to go to. We literally spoke to our mobile phone and asked "What terminal at JFK is American Airlines flight 123 today?" The mobile phone responded with the correct terminal number. It was terminal 8.

How in the world does it do that? The technologist in me wants to know, but there's another part of me that just doesn't really know or care. I just know it happens, am amazed by it and now will be disappointed when I ask my phone any question that it can't answer.

Here are some other technological inventions or discoveries that have come along over the years that I see as being very important:

Fire: Before humans had fire, when it was dark or cold, life was much different. Staying warm and even eating food was very different.

Ships: When explorers started sailing the oceans, they started trading with foreign countries, which opened people's eyes to completely different other ways of life.

Electricity: The ability to power things like motors and light bulbs meant that labor didn't have to come from just people and horses and water.

Flight: Already dealt with that.

Automobile: The ability for individuals to travel long distances, commute to work and provide personal mobility is nothing short of amazing.

Television: The ability to see news, movies and entertainment without leaving your home also boggles the mind. While the announcement that television would help people to learn and travel virtually, I've been told that the most financially successful television program in history is "Baywatch," which became a global financial success.

Personal computers: Putting computational power into the hands of the masses has enabled people to do amazing things in business, arts and science. Personally, people now communicate in vastly different ways, specifically email and social media.

Internet: Connecting millions and millions of computers together globally has made the world a much more connected place.

Smartphones: Combining the power of a personal computer with the Internet with the ability to walk around and have the power of virtually unlimited knowledge and what's new with Kim Kardashian is truly astonishing.

And with each of these amazing technologies, we all just now accept them. They're part of our lives and we expect them to be available. Generally, we can't even imagine our lives without these technologies. Even going on a trip without them can be uncomfortable for many people.

Each form of technology essentially "raises the bar" and, hopefully, makes our lives better. I certainly can't think of any of the above technologies I'd like to be without for any substantial period of time.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 17 April 2013.

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