Trend watchers, it is a job, a gig, an excuse to cruise social media watching for every nuanced shift in memes. Ukrainian farm equipment towing Russian tanks is one as I type. I watch trends to better understand where I want to invest (even if I don’t have the spare funds.) A personal trend lately has been to watch old black&white movies. Trends? You can guess at a movie’s age by watching the everyday things: hairstyles, clothes, etc. Guessing at fashions is not for me. I’m a minimalist and frugal; bland works for me. But those trends make me wonder about what is next in the trends in phones, cars, computers.
This is an easy one. Go back early enough and see the candlestick phones that you operated by jiggling the handset’s cradle to get the attention of the real operator, usually a woman working in front of a switchboard. Making a connection really was connecting the wire from your phone to a wire from the other phone because she physically moved wires.
Pardon me as I skip a few steps because otherwise this would be a historical treatise.
Many of the operators lost their jobs as the connections were automated, partly because users could dial the number themself (unless it was long distance.) Switchboards of wires were too cumbersome as the number of phones grew, but most people didn’t see the shift behind the scenes. A major change in the house was to the bakelite phones where the handset and the cradle and the dial were more compact. Then someone got the idea (from de-regulation?) to try other shapes when push buttons and their tone provided new technology and new style. Wireless happened. Phones were chained to an outlet, but we could wander the house and talk. Cell (mobile) phones crept in via radio phones as designers tried to decide on shapes and features. Clamshells rule! And then the iPhone changed everything.
And things we encounter less are operators, party lines, busy signals, that tone that told you the phone was working, and curly wires connecting a phone and its user to an outlet.
Long distance? No problem unless it is to another country.
Busy signals? Hah! But good luck getting past the modern equivalent of an answering machine.
But we still talk about making a connection, ringing someone up, dialing, hanging up, picking it up,…
Our icon is an old fashioned handset, maybe because smartphones have become bland (and expensive) rectangles.
When phones are incorporated into our smartglasses will we use the same old words?
It may be quaint to look at old phones, but look at old cars. Iconic? Sure, in the horseless carriage era. After that was elegance, or sturdy as a tank, or unreliable. Eventually energy crises created design crises as car companies tried to discover how to balance operational efficiency, corporate financial efficiency, safety, pollution – and oh yes, style.
We’ve gone from handcranks to start, to keys, to push buttons, to wireless fobs.
We’ve gone from sweating to steer and brake because power came from humans not hydraulics or electronics, to autonomous operation (but keep your hands on the wheel and your feet on the pedals – ha!)
We’ve gone from dedicating time and money on maintenance, to using shops for the tough stuff, to relinquishing all control because there’s little left we can fix – all while frustration and a lack of control are balanced with greater reliability.
We’ve gone from carrying extra gas to service with a smile (can I wash your window and check your oil? – which wasn’t an innuendo) to self-serve to where can I plug this in?
Our icons are sedans from the dull days, yet the introduction of electric vehicles can change that as new styles are available; but autonomous vehicles can change it again. Will people even own a car?
Seeing someone in a movie pumping gas may make as much sense as watching someone try to get an operator on the line.
IBM ruled. Secretaries at typewriters, librarians at card catalogs, bookkeepers at adding machines – yes, they exist; but machines automated much of it, until mainframes took on some of it, until mini-computers the size of refrigerators took on more, until workstations, then personal computers put it all in the user’s hands.
Paper tape and punch cards were replaced with magnetic tape, which was replaced with floppies, which were replaced with a variety of short-lived but denser media like Zip Drives, CDs, DVDs, and then USB for small things, then USBs that can do almost everything, then SD cards, the microSD cards.
And yet, our icon for storage remains the Mac floppy which wasn’t floppy.
Paper was slow, but archival. Newer media hold more and retrieve it faster, but can fade or become obsolete within a few years. A recent study by archivists found that the longest lasting media is to chisel the letters into stone (with an update using lasers and quartz crystals.)
Apple rules – for now.
Watch a movie and notice how well it can be dated by phones, cars, and computers. The same must be true, now, too.
Of course now the three have blended. My phone is connected to my car via an array of computers that can communicate.
I think we’re at the end of an era when phones are still visible, rather than integrated into apparel; when computers aren’t just in our stuff but are in us; and when cars need to be fueled with gas or electrons, but may not be something to own because autonomy may allow on-demand delivery of robot taxis. Elements of today’s phones, cars, and computers will remain, just as we still have operators standing by, the call of the open road, and computers that quit shrinking because our fingers and eyes are the limiting factors.
How bizarre will this era appear as people pick up a phone, drive, and rely on computers that require desks or laps?
Finger swiping in empty air may be a phone call, virtual travel, and the main interface with our information.
And here’s where personal finance comes in. What am I invested in that won’t survive the shifts; and how long until some of those shifts happen? (Futurists in the audience have been making commentary throughout, I’m sure. That’s what the Comment section is for.)
Subconsciously that may be why I invest in virtual displays (MVIS), electric vehicles (SOLO). Another trend for another blog post could be about decentralization, a trend I am watching which is why I am investing in solar power.
Thanks for staying with this stream of thought as I work through this realization. There is an awareness that we’re entering a time of a New Normal. I think it will be much more significant, and more subtle, than not wearing a mask.
I wonder how Hollywood is going to cope. I wonder how we will.