Drones, Phones & More: What Tech Will Last A Century? - InformationWeek

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1/26/2015
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David Wagner
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Drones, Phones & More: What Tech Will Last A Century?

The first transcontinental phone call was made 100 years ago this week. What technology including the phone will make it another 100 years?
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Introduction
(Image: TRF_Mr_Hyde)

(Image: TRF_Mr_Hyde)

We're marking the 100th anniversary of the first transcontinental phone call this week. If you missed our celebration of the call itself, please check out InformationWeek's picture gallery highlighting the call and the history of the phone, one of the most fundamental business tools in the enterprise.

That got us thinking. What other technologies will survive and adapt as well as the phone has? What technologies are coming to the end of their life cycles? We’re putting some major technologies to the test of surviving another hundred years.

The phone's survival and adaptation over 100 years from simple communication device to handheld computer is a tribute to the brilliance of the invention. It also indicates humanity's innate need to communicate, even across great distances, even if we’re reducing that communication to increasingly shorter text messages.

Before we get to those other technologies, can I simply point out the irony of the text message? Bell invented the telephone so we could hear each other's real voices instead of sending short, clipped messaged via telegram. For over 75 years, we have long intimate conversations on this device. Now we take the smartphone, the most powerful communication device ever invented, and turn it into a glorified telegraph machine sending shorter messages than Western Union. Seriously?

Is usage like that threatening the life of the phone? Are other changes in society making other technology obsolete? In the 1970s would you have believed that the phonograph, a contemporary invention to the phone, would have all but disappeared? Would you have believed you'd be telling your kids what a record was?

Not all technology survives. Sometimes there is a paradigm shift that wipes an invention from common use. Take gunpowder reducing the bow and sword to things you see at the Renaissance Faire. Some have survived for centuries like the wheel or paper.

A century is a long time in the lifetime of an invention. Just think. Since Bell made that call from New York to San Francisco, his phone went from something requiring living operators to connect people to rotary and touch-tone phones, to wireless and cellular, up to our current smartphones, which are personal computers in our pockets that take pictures and everything. Some technologies adapt. Others die.

So I thought I'd go through some of the most fundamental technology, old and new, in the enterprise today and see if I think it will last another 100 years. Seeing a couple years into the future is hard enough. Trying to see to 2115 is impossible. Remember it was only a little over 60 years between the Wright Brothers and landing a man on the moon. But heck, I'll give it a shot.

Check out the slideshow to see what I think survives and what doesn't. Then comment on what you think I got right and wrong.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
1/30/2015 | 11:38:43 PM
Adios Voicemal
Dave I would also add voicemail to the list--who really wants to listen to all those messages! Some companies are already axeing VM more will follow.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
1/29/2015 | 10:10:03 AM
Re: Drones, Phones & More: What Tech Will Last A Century
You're right - trying to see everything through a hundred-year filter is extremely difficult, and makes even what seem like very easy calls quite difficult to wrap your head around. As you pointed out in the article, and as others have chimed in in the comments, criteria and definition of 'surviving' for a technology are very important considerations.  Chief among them is whether modern smartphones even count as 'telephones' - by that same token, if we have flying cars, but we call them... well, 'flying cars', then can we still say that the 'car' has survived? Likewise, terms like 'Drone' and 'Computer' are very broad and misused already today - nevermind in the future  - so it would be quite difficult to rule them 'extinct' in any circumstance,

That said, I definitely have to disagree with some of these. It's true that it's nearly impossible to imagine what the whole of society will look like in a hundred years, but I think saying cars will be gone for good is a little too sci-fi. Think about this; if they still have cars in the 2050s, someone who is born then and in their 60s by the 2110s (presumably humans will live longer by this time) will want to drive cars and not mess around with newfangled stuff. Same with clocks - good points about people's relationship with time changing already today (and I've definitely noticed it with millenials), but 'gone' is different from 'unpopular'. Certain sectors like financial will always have to rely on hard time-based rules, and after all, Big Ben will still be around, right? I do agree with Coffee could be replaced, though , and I got a laugh out of video conferencing. Definitely a very thought-provoking topic.
TerryB
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TerryB,
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1/28/2015 | 12:45:47 PM
Re: Protect the internet - keep it open to everyone not just wealthy interests
@asksqn, not sure net neutrality is as big as you say. I'm not really on either side of fence, both have valid arguments. But I certainly don't buy the world would be such a terrible place without Facebook and Twitter and all these other doofy startups. When kids actually went outside and played instead of trolling each other on FB, it wasn't such a bad world. And when they stop my flight because some idiot with a Twitter account tweets they put a nuke on plane, that definitely doesn't improve the world.

As far as IoT, I'm not sure how civilization has survived without being able to check my refridgerator temp on my smartphone. Look at all those sensors on cars now, has that really worked out? I get more false postitives from those things than actual problems. My stupid BWM M3 keeps telling me I have a flat tire and that sure doesn't seem to be the case. Just because you CAN do something with tech doesn't mean you should.
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2015 | 5:02:25 PM
Protect the internet - keep it open to everyone not just wealthy interests
The only tech that will stand the test of time is that which is protected from the triple-dipping, duopolistic internet service providers.   If Comcast, et al. has its way, then the internet will never be the same. Instead, there will be toll booths installed.  Only those with deep pockets will be able to "innovate" and the Zuckerbergs of the world who are still in their parents garage working on the next social media sensation will cease to exist.  Net neutrality is the single biggest issue of a lifetime.  Without it, we can kiss goodbye the IoT and pretty much anything else unless you have the jack to pay to play. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/27/2015 | 3:19:09 PM
Re: Communication and Connections
@Jastroff- I like the way you put it. It is like we're whispering in each other's ears. I've noticed the only time anyone does that anymore is children (well in a public setting). Maybe we should learn from our kids and whisper to each other more, through the phone and otherwise.
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2015 | 3:13:42 PM
Communication and Connections
Wonderful observations, @dave

The beauty of the telephone is that it capitalizes on the intimacy of the voice of the caller being directed right into the ear of the person being called (sorry, speakerphones). For people c. 1900, this was a miracle. For people later in the century, the intimacy of this CONNECTION continued.  This is why video chatting will always be comical because it supplies too much information and so lacks intimacy, and text messages may be expedient, but not intimate.

 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/27/2015 | 2:17:55 PM
Re: Really, no paper?
@TerryB- Don't worry. There were instructions on the USB on how to make the right USB. :)


TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2015 | 2:03:42 PM
Re: Really, no paper?
I hear you and agree. I watched the movie Lucy this weekend where she unlocked her brain and learned all there was to learn. Told the point of learning was to pass the knowlege on (At risk of some spoil to those who have not seen it), she morphed her matter into a new age computer and produced a USB stick to professor with all that knowlege. All I could think was: Gee, hoped she used the right version of USB.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/27/2015 | 1:55:00 PM
Re: Really, no paper?
@TerryB- Just an old clip from the movie Demolition Man. :)

And you're right. I'm really worried about this problem, too. But I think we already jumped off the cliff on this one. The vast majority of the data we create today is not also stored on paper. We're all just assuming we're going to fix that problem when we come to it. My biggest fear is not whether we'll keep up with our own data storage. We'll always have people who make it a profession to bring back old data from tapes and old disks. My biggest worry is when we are destroyed and the alien archeologists come and they want to learn about our civilization but they can't read our primitive magnetic devices.

You think I'm kidding, but I'm totally serious.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2015 | 1:47:56 PM
Re: Really, no paper?
Dave, I'm really afraid to look at that video. Yuck. Besides, where in the heck am I going to get 3 sea shells in Wisconsin? Maybe some Zebra Mussel shells, will those work?

To get serious for a minute, will anyone really solve the storage of information long term without paper? Between the inherent use of electricity/magnetism in digital storage media, digital encoding (ASCII, PDF) and the problem of obsolesense of formats (do you have any idea how many different kinds of tape media I've seen in my career?), it's going to take quite a breakthrough to find something that works like a written language (English) and ink/paper. Like you said, 2000 years has to mean something.
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