From the Braver Institute
I like technology. While I keep one foot firmly planted in the ways of old, the other one is always stepping into the future. With technology, we have the things of science fiction past at our fingertips today, and technology is cheap too.
Not long ago I bought a new computer. The whole thing cost less than four-hundred dollars, which seems a shockingly low price to me. Years ago I remember hearing rumors about fivehundred dollar computers being available in the future. I remember laughing at how ridiculous that idea sounded.
It reminded me of the first computer system at my family’s trucking company. While it wasn’t first generation in the world of computers, it was certainly close to it in the small business environment. We had three desktop computers and three printers. We used them in the office for billing, accounts receivable, dispatching, and most importantly, for playing solitaire. We really only used two of them with any kind of regularity. The third one just sat there. The best thing about these computers was that they cost only twenty-five thousand dollars. Yes, you read that right—only twenty-five grand. There was a time when one computer cost that much and it didn’t even include a printer.
I worked in billing and accounts receivable, and I used one of the computers to run aging reports (aging reports tell whether a customer’s account is current or past due and how long it is past due). We had over three-hundred customers in our system and running the aging report took a fair amount of time since the report also had to be printed. For some reason, technology at the time didn’t think that just looking at the information was good enough— back then we still needed to hold the information in our hands.
I used to run the aging report once a week and I would start it at the end of the day because running an aging report took six or seven hours, and six or seven hours of listening to a dot-matrix printer do its thing could make you insane. By running the report at the end of the day it would conveniently be waiting for me the next morning, and my sanity remained in check.
The computer was actually a huge time saver over manually putting together that kind of report.
A few years later we found ourselves in need of new computers. We were shocked at how cheap they had become. I bought two new computers with printers for only five-thousand dollars. Yes, you read that right— only five grand.
On top of being so much cheaper, they were also unspeakably faster. My new computer would run the aging report in only a half-hour! Now I could run the report on demand and not be concerned with the dot-matrix printer buzzing away for most of the work day. Now I just had to listen to it for part of an hour. I had no problem with only partial insanity.
Cheaper, faster, better. Technology seems to work in a paradox. We accept that everything else gets more expensive and progressively lower in quality, yet we expect technology to cost less and be better than its more expensive predecessors.
My first digital camera was an ordeal to buy. I spent months carefully researching cameras and then I spent a few more months trying to get the one I wanted on eBay at a more affordable price. My first digital camera was a 3.2 megapixel point-andshoot that cost me only threehundred dollars. It was capable of producing high-quality 8x10 prints, and as a bonus, it could shoot video! I was in digital photography heaven.
Of course today such a camera is laughable. I think you can now find cameras like that at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.
Last month, on a lark, I bought a new point-and-shoot camera. This one is a 14.2 megapixel unit. It will produce high-quality prints the size of Montana. As a bonus, it shoots high-definition video. Unlike my first digital camera, it has a built-in rechargeable battery and wirelessly transfers photos to my computer. Everyone knows what a time consuming hassle it is to hook a camera up to a computer and wait for images to transfer. It kind of makes me wonder how we ever thought that one-hour photo processing was fast, let alone regular photo processing.
I paid eighty-nine dollars for the camera. Yes, you read that right—eighty-nine dollars. It wouldn’t surprise me if the computer in this camera could run an aging report in two seconds.
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