Resisting change isn't going to stop it

MULTIMEDIA & COMMUNICATIONS

December 08, 1993|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

The rush of publicity about wonderful things to come when the nation has paved its information Autobahn has given rise to a new breed of skeptics who insist that consumers will take one look at the speed of travel and decide to stay on the county roads of technology.

This point of view has become especially popular among newspaper pundits, especially those of the type who still keep their battered Royal typewriters in their offices. Their mantra goes something like: "Who's going to want 500 channels? Nobody I know uses the 40 they have."

It's a comforting thought that the pace of change will remain gradual and comfortable, but history suggests otherwise. Unless your remaining time on Earth is relatively short, prepare yourself for some shocks.

Let's turn back the clock by a century to 1893, the year of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Off the railroad tracks, the main mode of transportation is the horse and buggy. Telephones are a curiosity. Flight is strictly for the birds. Newspapers are only starting to become a mass medium -- the only one. The United States is a regional power.

Now speed up 25 years, to 1918, the year of the Armistice.

The automobile is rapidly becoming a mass-market consumer good. The airplane, 15 years after its invention, is already being used in war and commerce. People are flocking to theaters to watch motion pictures. The radio has been invented and is on the brink of commercialization. Phones are finding their way into the home. The United States is the dominant world power after the most extensive war the world has known.

That's not all. Einstein has revolutionized physics with the Theory of Relativity. Frank Lloyd Wright has changed architecture forever, and Picasso has done the same for art. Women are on the brink of winning the right to vote.

Back to 1993. If you turned 40 this year, you will turn 65 in 2018. Between now and retirement, you will likely witness changes even more profound than your counterpart from a century ago. The pace of change is much faster in the Digital Age. By 2018, the most popular elective surgery might be implantation of a device that lets a computer interact directly with the human central nervous system. Far-fetched? No more than radio to someone in 1893.

As much as some comfortable baby boomers and their elders might want to just settle in with the technology they've become familiar with, they do so at their peril. There's a generation of hungry young people leaving college thoroughly comfortable with computers as a part of their daily lives. For many of them, the Internet will be as familiar as their backyard.

With their careers backed up behind the huge generation that preceded them and only a step ahead of the hordes to follow, these Generation X members will be looking for every edge they can get. Many of them will find it in mastery of technology. Today's technophobic executive of 45 could be flipping burgers at 55.

Yes, a video-on-demand trial in California may fail. Yes, today's virtual reality is virtually laughable. Yes, dozens of companies may fail by gambling on technologies the market isn't ready to accept.

But when the techno-skeptics point to these inevitable flops as a sign of the strength of the status quo, be skeptical. History and demographics say to bet on change.

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