What a difference 20 years makes…

Reading the Newsweek article presented in class (and found here) made me feel a variety of emotions. One of them was OLD! I convinced myself 1995 was only 10 years ago, one of the few times my lack of mathematical abilities was actually serving me well. But being a simple equation, my brain unfortunately corrected itself and reminded me that the article was actually written 20 years ago. So why did it seem like just yesterday?

Let me explain. In 1995 I forced my father to buy his first PC. He is an entrepreneur and sold specialty cosmetics through mail order. He would place ads in the back of magazines such as Essence and Ebony. (Remember the pages of ads in the back of magazines or am I dating myself yet again?) He also started to dabble in infomercials as he noticed the revenue from magazine ads seemed to be slowly drying up. He wondered where all the new customers were going?

At 14 years old, I found myself fascinated with all things tech. I have no idea how or why- we weren’t a tech savvy home. Our televisions were from the eighties and those were probably the fanciest gadgets we owned outside of my dad’s CB Radio. (You may need to look up what that is. Wikipedia has a good description.) There were computers at my highschool. We even had a class twice a week to use them and it was my favorite. The only thing we learned was how to type. I prided myself on being one of the few who typed with accuracy even though there was a felt blanket over the keyboard so that we couldn’t see the letters. For 10 minutes at the end of class, we got to play “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego”. I still think it’s one of the best games created. For me, this was a step into the future.  But, I knew computers had other, more communicative uses. My sister was at the University of Rochester and had shown me her email and the blue screened chat rooms on the library PCs. We spent an hour talking to strangers and playing funny tricks on them- I was hooked!

So when my father started talking about the downward trickle of his customer base, I explained to him that the culprit was simple. He needed to go online! We didn’t have a lot of money- his business was small and fledgling at that time. But I convinced him that the computer was the way of the future and that he needed an e-commerce site. Admittedly, my pitch was self-serving. I wanted America Online. After seeing the commercials with all the cool colors and hundreds of chats, it seemed like ample entertainment for a girl who lived in the country and wasn’t allowed to go anywhere but school. So off we went to computer store 20 miles away and bought our first computer for about $1400, no small investment for anybody at that time.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. Teaching a 54 year old man who types on the typewriter with two index fingers how to use a mouse was a challenge! I wrote his first e-commerce pages using HTML. In retrospect, it was rather industrious considering my age. We could collect credit cards and had live processing on the site.  As the Product Owner of an Enterprise e-commerce site 20 years later, I can tell you that concept is STILL no easy task. And I have to say, I never even thought about the irony of my job vs. how I started at 14 building an e-commerce site for my dad until right at this moment.

Which kind of brings me full circle back to the article. Twenty years are a long time, but actually not really. When I think about the household that had zero gadgets 20 years ago to where we are now- it’s mind-boggling. That 54 year old man learned how to take apart and put together his own pcs within 2 years of purchasing his first one. Now, at the tender age of 74, my childhood home is filled with state of the art cameras, sound systems and televisions. He has every i-gadget you can think of (admittedly I bought most of them). My father became a tech geek overnight and it’s something we continue to bond over. When I go home he shows me his latest toys and I show him mine. He’s always marveling at new technology. I think because he is older and more of his lifetime consisted without it, he has a deeper appreciation for the shift that has occurred in the last 20 years. I couldn’t help but wonder as I read this 20 year old analysis of the internet: What is that guy thinking now?

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Remember Excite?

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The story of the internet reminds me of classes I took back in 1999 when I was a student at the iSchool. It was actually a lot of review. And shocking that I remembered Anything! I guess I’m not as far removed from that time in my life as I thought.

Anyway, the thing that I found most entertaining about this week was the discussion around dotcoms. For years I had been wondering what ever happened to the other search engines like Infoseek and Excite? I admit I would ponder it on the train or randomly- never when I was near enough to my computer to Google it. And let’s face it: It’s probably not the question at the forefront of my mind every day. That said, having the opportunity to actually research and see what became of Excite was both entertaining and informative. Who knew it took so long to finally go away. I didn’t realize it was still alive in the early 2000s. In any event, when I graduated college in 2001, dotcoms were a cautionary tale and my degree from the iSchool was about as valuable as a mortgage license was in 2007: Not very.

I remember thinking at the time: How did this happen? I was relatively young and didn’t understand much about economies or business. It’s interesting to revisit the topic at a different stage in life where these occurrances make more sense. The dotcom bust is not much different from other failing businesses we see together as old models become obsolete and new ones take over. Although the reasons were different (Rapid Growth, Overspending, Zero Planning), the outcome was the same. Not to bring up the emergance of cloud computing again (per my last post), but look at how that has forced structural change for companies such as Oracle and Siebel. For if they didn’t keep up, they would go the way of the dotcom and any other company that refused to innovate. Kodak is a great example. As technology moves forward, so must we. But as the dotcoms learned- moving forward has to be done with planning and thought. We cannot expect technology in of itself to have all the answers otherwise it will fail.

Zoom Zooming through media convergence

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Living in NJ, I often find myself behind the wheel of my car. I use that time to think and contemplate. As I was pondering all the ways media and technology converged, it occurred to me that part of that convergence was happening right in my vehicle.  Sounds like a stretch, doesn’t it? Well not really- allow me to explain.

Computer diagnostics in cars started in the 80s.  Computer diagnostics is basically when parts of the car are actually controlled and monitored by computers.  We would get more accurate engine lights, tire pressure warnings, etc. due to these computers in cars.  Once the computer entered the car, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before traditional computer uses became applicable within the vehicle.

In the past, if you wanted to get directions, you had to look at a map.  The most advanced map feature you could get in a car was a compass. Toyota had navigation systems in select cars in the 80s. But in general, they were unheard of. Then a little site called Mapquest arrived and we would run to Mapquest, pop in the addresses and print out the directions before our trips. Eventually luxury cars offered built-in navigation but most people bought portable navigation devices.  But neither of these had “up to the minute” information. If you wanted to know things like traffic, lane closures, detours, road work, accidents, etc., you would need to listen to the radio or watch the news prior to entering your vehicle.

My last car showed me where the traffic was and gave me a list of “incidents”. The one I have now actually redirects me live as soon as an incident or traffic jam occurs! This is information I used to get either online or on the news. And while GPS/Traffic reports are one example of digital media that is now available in your car, there are tons of others. I can literally check my Facebook, Twitter, listen to a book, call my mother, text a friend, listen to any television or radio show and see YouTube videos…from the dashboard of my car.  There’s something scary about that (probably that we should be paying attention to the road and not surfing Facebook). It makes me wonder what they will come up with next?

Melissa