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April 20, 2009

Tracking the Tech Transformation, Part One

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U.S. President Barack Obama, in the interests of restructuring his administration to meet the needs of the modern world, introduced a new position to his Cabinet over the weekend. Aneesh Chopra was appointed chief technology officer of the nation, a role dedicated to making government more efficient through the use of technology.

technology then and now
Image by iLoveButter via Creative Commons

It’s a digital world that we live in, and the online revolution has affected some of the most basic human tasks. Easy-to-use tools have improved efficiency and the next great device or program is always waiting on the horizon, poised to push the old way of life into the obsolete. I enjoy living in such a dynamic and progressive world. And the exponential speed with which today’s changes are occurring is remarkably unique in all of human existence.

The early evolution of tools through stone (the first humanoids appear to have used stone tools roughly 2.5 million years ago) to bronze (beginning more than 5,000 years ago) to iron (just 3,500 years ago) seems to have taken eons compared to the rate of current innovation. Now, riding on the shoulders of giants, it has become easier to break barriers and creatively overcome obstacles in record time.

And while I love being part of this historically unique and awe-inspiring age, it can be hard to keep the new technology straight. In a single lifetime, my parents and grandparents have watched their way of life morph dramatically. My grandmother was born before television. My father was born before the Internet. The possibilities for advancement in just the next few years are unlimited.

Today it’s a challenge to decide which platform to adopt, which social network to join, which medium to market through, because the vast majority of platforms/networks/communication mediums fall by the wayside in favor of the single solution that finds dominance. It’s impossible to predict with certainty where the future of technology lies. Still, upcoming technological advancements are worth studying in order to prepare for tomorrow.

I’ve pinpointed three trends in breaking technologies to consider as you craft your plans for the future. Following is the first. Points two and three will be detailed in their own posts later this week.

dark sky and silver clouds
Photo by tipiro via Creative Commons

Life in the Clouds

On ZDNet today, Jason Hiner asks have we arrived in the post-Windows era? He explains how computing technology moved from the text-based operating system of DOS to Apple’s graphical user interface. Then he takes us to the time when Microsoft took on the battle of the browser war, recognizing that the Web would eventually take over people’s task management needs. As Hiner tells it, Windows Vista and Windows 7, the most recent incarnations of Windows operating systems, have added nothing to the market because the OS has “reached a point of diminishing returns.”

And, of course, the other thing that’s going on is that the Web browser is finally usurping the OS as the universal platform that was envisioned back in the mid-1990s. […] What we’re seeing is that many businesses are using the Web browser as the front-end application to access private, back-end systems, from databases to CRM to ERP to payroll to corporate portals. […] If you combine that with the fact that many users now keep their personal e-mail and files in Web-based systems such as Yahoo Mail and Google Docs, you have a situation in which the average user spends most of her computer time in a Web browser.

Consider the fact that the new national CTO is known for his initiatives during his service as Virginia’s secretary of technology. Chopra’s programs included “Virginia on iTunes U”, in which teachers and publishers made free educational material available on iTunes. He also promoted a competition to get developers to create math applications for middle schoolers, made available in the iPhone App Store.

Nearly any and every tool we need in our lives has found its way online, ready to be located in the cloud, opening society in a way never before possible. There are two more ideas I want to share with you about transformative possibilities of technology in our lives. Check in for part two tomorrow and my thoughts on the Dead Tree Society (part two) and Rocking in the Free World (part three).

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