Simple Stuff 10 -  Evolving to a PDA

By Hal Reid

Simple stuff has been about PDAs and applications that make you portable, connected and creative on the fly. But what forces have shaped the ability to do what you do with your PDA and allow you to embrace the technology?

I believe a great deal of that ability is derived from conditioning and developed expectations as much as it is intellect.For if this was 1900, you would not be able to relate to a PDA. From 1900 until now, we are the products of 100 years of acceleration both of technology as well as expectations.If you doubt that, just look where you were at the beginning of the 20th century.

You have not traveled more than 20 mile from home.Your retail expectations are limited to the local stores, whose selection is minimal and the Sears Roebuck catalogue.It is normal to wait for things (save up, no credit cards) or order them and when you receive a product, it is probably close to what you wanted and that is the best you can hope for, unless you made it yourself.You have seen references to flying machines, automobiles and know there are places with electricity, but not in the Tennessee valley, and life is basically the same as it was 20 years before.

World War I introduced foreign travel, airplanes, submarines, radio communications and a sense of connection with the rest of the world and expectations were raised.Technology was creeping into retail and automobiles were no longer just in the newspapers.You wanted more and faster.It just that fast wasn't "very" in those days.

The Roaring 20's made you feel that dreams could come true and wealth was in the reach of a lot of people. Regular radio programs, self-starting cars, movies that didn't flicker and some that actually talked and more consumer goods.Clothes and shoes that actually fit raised your expectations.Windup telephones were passé and if you had to make a call, there were phone booths.Music and life seemed faster.

The 30's lowered everyone's expectations, but you hung on to the radio, your car.Presidential campaigns promised a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.The American character had always been full of hope; you sometime just dared to hope more than most people.The Great Depression did not stop technology or your expectations; it just slowed them down for a while.

The 40's were an amazing decade. Jet planes, Atomic power, television, the Bendix washing machine, tract homes and the GI Bill.The acceleration continued both in technology and expectations.W.W.II and the depression made people want more for their children - "never to have to experience what we did." More products, better marketing, better product delivery infrastructure and even FM radio.Do you remember that fedoras were cool?

The 50's set in motion even more acceleration.Everybody, not just Ford had a V8.Color television, serious ad campaigns in print, television, radio, and direct mail and color inserts in the newspaper.We broke the sound barrier; this was the beginning of the Space Program, and computers.Elections were televised along with sincere commercials.You were inundated with products; marketing was creating demand, the acceleration continued.It was normal to want technology.You couldn't stand not having the first satellite in space.

In the 60's the political environment created a sense of expectation as well frustration.Real time television reporting from major parts of the world, common color TV, going to the Moon, counter culture creating acceleration in the demand for Volkswagens and an assumption that there would always be more technology.Now you could major in college in Computer Science.Science Fiction had you lost in space with a robot.Fast Food becomes more than the Silver Diner.You expect even more.

In many ways, the 1970's was the decade of disappointment.The war was over, but a President resigns and suddenly we are out of oil, twice.Expectations are in jeopardy.Could our expectations and this technology thing come falling down? The prime goes to 21% making it impossible to buy big-ticket items or finance new endeavors.Real Estate markets take a nosedive.Technology is now Xerox, Polaroid, stereo FM, and transistor powered calculators.High mileage Japanese cars are taking major market share from Detroit.High tech still rules, but your expectations are slightly muted and you ask, "what's happening".

Outside of corporate raiders, the recession, and cars that ran poorly because of smog controls, the big thing in the 1980's was the PC.You, of course, had several.You knew obscure DOS commands and witnessed the luggable computer.If there had been a PDA, you were now to a point in your evolution where you could understand, if not quite have IR ports, USB, memory sticks, and Windows CE.Fast food is now totally mainstream.Your expectations are that you will never fill up a 30-megabyte hard drive or need more than 640K of memory.

The 90's gave us real laptops, Windows 95, 98 and 2000.Of course, you had to have at least one, running each version of Windows during that decade.This is not to mention the network in your house and most importantly, the Internet.You hate it when you have to connect through a modem and discover that really cool almost new laptop is now so slow and heavy.The battery didn't last very long either, especially when you were finishing that proposal on a long airplane ride. Everyone who is anyone has a cell phone.Email is in the palm of your hand with your Blackberry.You are wired, connected and want more from your Palm Pilot.Your expectations and ability to absorb technology are eons away from the beginning of this century, but possibly you are only beginning to evolve.

This is the 21st century and you are a vastly different lifeform than you were at the beginning of the 20th century.The PDA keeps you connected even more than just a short time ago as it merges with your cell phone, retrieves your email wirelessly, orders products for you before you walk in the store and it now lets you access the Internet from anywhere.It is almost as though all the knowledge gained in the last 2,000 years is at you stylus tip.Since you made it through the past 100 years, Web MD has become one of your favorite URLs.What has happened to your expectations? You expect your car to be Japanese quality. When you buy something (unless it is over the web) you expect it now and as you "spec'd" it out.The operative word as a consumer is "NEXT!," if your retail doesn't deliver.Life is faster and you are more impatient, because more is happening and you seem to have less time.

The point is, you could not be here if you had not been there.If you do not think so, could you have imagined watching some person in the airport talking to some wire in his ear with a straight face just a few years ago?

You have evolved to a different place. The next question is: has business evolved with you; has it become as mobile, with the same rising expectations? Or is it still stuck in last century?

We'll try to address that next time in Simple Stuff.

Published Wednesday, October 9th, 2002

Written by Hal Reid

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