Tuesday, March 13, 2007

When Technology Doesn't Change

My 6th grade daughter takes the ISATS (Illinois Standard Achievement Tests) this week, tests meant more to evaluate the school than the students. Despite the amazing changes in computer technology, she takes the exam the same way I did for the equivalent tests in the 70's, filling in ovals with a Number 2 pencil.

In my lifetime we've sent a man to the moon and music has moved from records to 8-tracks to cassettes to CDs to MP3 players. But what hasn't changed. The vast changes have been in computation and communication, but transportation remains mostly the same. Airplanes fly as fast now as they did in the 60's using the same basic jet engine technology. Most cars still run on the combustion engine and remain grounded. Elevators, escalators and sidewalks where people still walk. We really haven't changed how we get from point A to point B.

We still read our books on paper and write with ballpoint pens. Locks are mostly split cylinders. They still haven't invented a good mouse trap or cured the common cold. And let's not forget the greatest device devised by man: Saran Wrap.


  1. Airplanes do not fly as fast as twenty years ago as we do not have Concordes any more.

  2. Well I don't visualize me reading in another thing that's not paper. Maybe the digital paper, but the truth is that computer screens leave you so tired of reading.

  3. Commercial Concorde flights started only in 1976.

    In many ways we did make siginificant progress in
    air travel since the 1960s. The avionics are far more
    sophisticated, and air travel is far more affordable.

    We do read books as in the 60s, but the way that
    they are produced has changed considerably.

    I'm frequently puzzled by the expectation that we adopt some new technology, just because it improves some aspect of the way we do things, regardless of the demand for such an improvement or the effect it will have on other aspects, such as price.

  4. When I was growing up, it seemed that one of our cars was almost always in the shop being fixed. Now, we own a lot more Japanese cars, and even the American ones don't break anywhere near as often.

    True, nobody is commuting to work by flying over the river with jetpacks these days, but there have been definite improvements in automotive technology.

  5. "And let's not forget the greatest device devised by man: Saran Wrap."

    According to Douglas adams that would be the digital watch

  6. Textiles are much improved. Now you can be warmer skiing and also not have to put on 20 lbs of clothing.

    It's amazing.

  7. Many people don't `visualize' technologies before they happen. So much more exciting when you don't!

  8. Anonymous said: "And let's not forget the greatest device devised by man: Saran Wrap.", and we mustn't forget Duct Tape and the PostIt note. So perhaps humanity's great leap forward is ... adhesives? :)

    Another little-noticed milestone is that today's inexpensive desktop computer chess programs easily beat top-level grandmasters -- even giving pawn odds. Evidently, strong AI is creeping up on us humans slowly. :)

  9. Now TOEFL moves to computer-based testing, and becames twice MORE expensive than the paper-based one from the last ten years.

  10. A related subject is technologies that don't work.

    Except ... there aren't any such! Pretty much any technology that has ever been conceived is still being worked on.

    For a long time, I thought "nuclear powered aircraft" was an exception; a technology that had definitively failed (and the interplay of science, engineering, and politics in this failure is quite fascinating).

    But guess what. Especially for this post, I checked, and sure enough ... they're back.

  11. Some technologies have not improved
    that much. Witness the following:

    Computers have gone up in speed
    by a factor of a zillion since 1950.
    (Not sure of the exact number,
    but its quite a bit.)

    Batteries have gone up in power by
    a factor of... two? three?
    (also not sure, but its really not
    that big).

    bill g.

  12. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Far too many people think its necessary to "upgrade" technologies that work just fine. Why spend millions to put a computer on the desk of every kid when the bubble sheets work just fine?

    Why make a "better mousetrap" when the 50 cent ones kill mice just fine?

  13. The wheel hasn't improved much. I mean, we just can't seem to make it any rounder!

  14. Blogs and google ads are great inventions. By the way, how much money does your google ad make ?

  15. Batteries are a bit better today. Used to be you had these huge camcorder batteries, and you had to run them all the way down before charging them, otherwise the battery life could be permanently shortened. Huge pain. Much better now.

    However the energizer AA rechargeables I bought were completely worthless. So I guess you do still have a good point.