TECH TALK: The Years That Were

One of the lessons we easily forget is that of History. We always think we our generation, our technologies, our beliefs, our enterprises are different from all that has been. We cannot be blamed because none of us have experienced the past (the wayback past). And so we do the best we can in the present and hope for a better future. Of course, the correct thing to do is look ahead, see how new technologies will make a difference, and what opportunities they will create. But every once in a while, it is a good idea to reflect on the past. Because technology moves so fast, it is not easy to step back and think. In an era of blur, our memories too fade away fast.

I recently came across many old magazines in my collection. As I was debating whether to keep them or discard them, I started browsing through them. For a while, I was completely lost in the world of the 1990s, interspersing events and magazine stories with recollections of my own life, the thinking that was, and decisions I made (or didnt). It was an interesting personal experience, and I thought it would be nice to provide some of the inputs from the magazines so that each of you could do the same. So, for a few brief moments, step into the Time Machine as we go Back to the Past.

(Admittedly, the collection of quotes is a very unscientific sample. Ive only used the magazines that I foundAs you read this, the idea is to also look ahead to the world that will be, and not get too worried about todays technology slowdown. Tech is relentless. A few years may be a long time for us to live through, but there are put a blip in the overall timeline. Just see the change we have gone through in the past 10 years.)


Wrote Michael Dertouzos in Scientific American (September 1991 special issue on Communications, Computers and Networks subtitled How to Work, Play and Thrive in Cyberspace) offering a glimpse of the future:

In a world in which hundreds of millions of computers, servants to their users, easily plug into a global information infrastructure, business mail would routinely reach its destination in five seconds instead of five days, dramatically altering the substance of business communications. A companys designers and markets would actively collaborate on a product, even when located a continent apart and unable to meet at the same time. Consumers would broadcast their needs to suppliers, creating a kind of reverse advertising. Many good would be ordered and paid for electronically. A parent could deliver work to a physically distant employer while taking care of children at home. A retired engineer in Florida could teach algebra to high school students in New York City. And from a comfortable position in your easy chair, you could enjoy a drive to your next vacation spot, a trip through Louvre, or a high-definition movie rented electronically, chosen from the millions available.

Among the computer ads in the same issue were: IBMs RISC System/6000, Prodigy (Hundreds of exciting features, including 30 personal messages for USD 12.95 per month, with no online time charges), Intels Math Co-processors (i387 and i487), Apple Macintosh IIfx and IIci (and another ad asking why your next DOS computer should be a Macintosh), Dell (showing it No. 1 in the JD Power PC Customer Satisfaction Rankings), Phar Lap Software for its 286 and 386 DOS Extenders, Zeniths MastersPort notebook (Intel 386 SL, 2 MB RAM, 60 MB Hard Disk, Windows 3.0 pre-installed, upto 8 hours battery life, and a weight of 6.8 lbs.), and Intel (Intel Inside how to spot the very best PCs).

Lee Sproul and Sara Kiesler, writing about computers at work, relate a story by Paul Schreiber, a Newsday columnist, about what happened at his company: Management apparently believed that reporters were spending too much time spending electronic mail; management therefore had the newspapers electronic mail software modified so that reporters could still receive email but could no longer send it. Editors, on the other hand, could still send electronic mail to everyone.

Tomorrow: 1994

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.