Thursday, December 31, 2015

50 years of me

It's my birthday today. My 50th. I know lots of people do their review of the year or predictions on December 31. I'm going to have more of a wander down memory lane. 50 years makes you pause and reflect. Those of a certain age may enjoy the reminiscences...

Change is the constant of the last 50 years of course. Isn't it? I wonder if in fact it may have been a story of massive technological change in the very earliest years of my life followed by a frenzeid four decades of commercialisation of that technology.

In the first five years of my life we put a man on the moon, the first supersonic commercial jet liner took off for the first time (a feat NASA scientists regarded as a greater technical achievement) and the first two nodes of the internet were connected.

Actually all of these things happened  in 1969.

Compare this with the life of ordinary folk. I went to school, aged 4 and a bit, probably in 1970. Occasionally we would all be called outside to watch as Concorde flew on test from the relatively nearby RAE Thurleigh (I grew up in Bedfordshire, UK). Hi-tech huh? Inside we had blackboards and chalk. Even in my junior school the desks retained the holes where inkwells used to be held.

While I studied for an O-level in Computer Studies (writing code, in BASIC) the only time I saw a computer at school was in those o-level lessons (around 1980-82). We had the first rubber keyboard Spectrums.

At university I typed not on a word processor, but on a manual typewriter. It wasn't even electric.Research meant the library.

I owned a home pc before I got exposed to one at work. Mine was a Spectrum. ZX-82 (please correct me) I think - proper keyboard, playing games loaded by cassette player. Copying was easy.

I worked in media and over the course of a decade we moved from typing on three layers of paper separated by carbon paper (to create copies) to Macs with the power of 'super computers'. Lots of folks lost their jobs.

By then (early 90s) the internet was becoming a thing. I got internet access at home before I did at work. But boy was it slow. Even so, internet banking seemed infinitely preferable to the High Street alternative. In the next month or so I'll be taking delivery of a new broadband offering up to 500mb. Back then I had 512kb.

This past Christmas my guestimate is that 90% of my spend was online.

When I was born, the second world war was just 20 years behind us. We were reaping the technological peace dividend.

But since 1969 what giant leaps for mankind have we made?

Put it like that and smartphones and tablets can be easily dismissed as ways of commercialising the internet.

Medical advances have been spectacular - but we are only generally exposed to these when they become a matter of life and death to our nearest and dearest. We don't have a cure for cancer, nor for many other diseases.

And most painfully of all, despite the massive resources we have accumulated, the brilliant minds we are capable of connecting, we have not solved the problem of poverty. All the data suggests that, even in developed countries, the gap between rich and poor is growing.

  • The gap between the rich and poor can be illustrated by the fact that the three wealthiest individuals in the world have assets that exceed those of the poorest 10 percent of the world's population.
  • The fact that inequality exists between nations is seen in the statistic that the world's wealthiest countries have just 13% of the world's population but 45% of its purchasing power; the poorest nations have 42% of the world's population and 9% of its purchasing power.
  • Source: Boundless. “Growing Gap Between Rich and Poor.” Boundless Sociology. Boundless, 21 Jul. 2015. Retrieved 31 Dec. 2015 from
    Our great technological leaps have given many of us significantly better, more connected, healthier, wealthier lives. That has been the great achievement of the last 50 years.

    1969 showed us the way: Neil Armstrong's pictures of the Earth showed us we share a world. The internet allowed us to make that connection real. 1969 gave us the tools. Perhaps 2016 could be a new dawn of intention?

    So my birthday wish is that the next 50 years are focused on making significantly better, more connected, healthier, wealthier (and happier) lives for ALL of us.

    Have a great New Year.

    The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?