Reflecting on some of the phone interviews, talks with headhunters and constantly searching for jobs and contracts - for the longest period of no work I have had (oh look! A resume!), I've seen all manner of software development jobs float by in the ether. Some I shoot flares at, some I don't, but I see almost all of them through a combination of RSS feeds, email updates and a helpful network of friends. And, as one does after looking without finding, one starts reflecting.
Then I ran across this quote on Facebook:
"While I have not lost faith in its potentialities, my views have changed since. War can not be avoided until the physical cause for its recurrence is removed and this, in the last analysis, is the vast extent of the planet on which we live. Only though annihilation of distance in every respect, as the conveyance of intelligence, transport of passengers and supplies and transmission of energy will conditions be brought about some day, insuring permanency of friendly relations. What we now want most is closer contact and better understanding between individuals and communities all over the earth and the elimination of that fanatic devotion to exalted ideals of national egoism and pride, which is always prone to plunge the world into primeval barbarism and strife. No league or parliamentary act of any kind will ever prevent such a calamity. These are only new devices for putting the weak at the mercy of the strong." - Chapter 6, My Inventions, Nikola Tesla (1919)
There's no way Tesla could have predicted the modern Internet, but he had this crazy idea that the world would be a better place if only we could communicate across large distances. Almost 100 years later, it's an odd naiveté (or romantic idealism) that some of us cling to. Of course, technology has promised many things across the decades.
The Old World
Back in the 1980s, when I first started my intimate relationship with feral computers, technology was promising simplicity. At some point in the last few decades that changed somewhere, probably when I was compiling some code or debugging some source code. The big thing in the 1980s was the paperless office which, as much as I could over the years, I have attempted to have. Signed contracts still necessitate a printer and scanner.
Visicalc came along. Accountants everywhere were very pleased.
Sneaker nets, where we ran around with magnetic media (we did use cassettes and reel-to-reel devices for a while), were slowly morphed into networks. Computers began sharing information across networks. Thanks in part to the Carterfone, where some guy sold his ranch to beat AT&T's monopoly of connecting devices to the phone system, networks grew even further as modems became more and more popular. For debugging purposes the modems had speakers where you could hear the handshake (play this in the office and see what happens!). Again, the promise of paperless offices. Again, there was a promise that we would spend less time being more productive.
The Internet was a natural evolution of networks - a really big network where we could communicate and, yes, share code - though sharing code became more and more of an issue of copyright - and where The Bulletin Board Systems of yesteryear became even more viable for so many. Web browsers, email, the web browser wars - which have managed to screw up web development to this day - and websites, where you could show off your HTML skills. Awesome stuff. In seemingly unrelated news, the Berlin Wall came down - changing economies even more. The Internet became the beast of burden for the Dot Com blowout. Not only could you spend less time doing more, you could become more visible and even useful with websites. Everyone who could afford Internet access could get their 15 megabytes of fame.
Microsoft Frontpage came out and even people who didn't know HTML could create websites. This Dark Age of the Internet was quickly remedied with weblog software that quickly morphed into blog software, then Content Management Systems. Free Software and Open Source leveled the playing field as only Free Software and Open Source could. They diverged. Linux made servers more cost effective, and LAMP servers, to this day, are as common to the Internet as salt and pepper are in kitchens - not always used but always available.
Mobile technologies, wireless, 3G, 4G (coming soon, nG!). Programmers and technologists everywhere have been working on what we create now - and a few of us got to see it from the angle I just wrote about. In doing so, when I look on social networks about how our communication has improved, I'm not sure that Tesla took into account the human condition. We gravitate to those like us and on the Internet, through social media and social networks, we do exactly that. Twitter hashtags and who our 'friends' are determine what we read and, since we read what we like to read, we reinforce our opinions on just about everything.
We're still not paperless and I'm not sure that we could claim that we're more productive. Technology still hasn't really met many of the dreams of the 1980s - or at least made them commonplace - and it seems, overall, we have more and more things to spend time on. But word processors do the same things, though they are formatted more nicely. We can process more data - if we have access to it and can trust it. Computer programming has gone from coding from basics to integrating libraries of code which has created more flavors and also more obsolete software as it becomes harder and harder to find developers that can support them.
I write all of this because those dreams of the 1980s shouldn't be nostalgic. By now they should be real. Some people would say that our technology has outstripped our humanity - I used to - but I'm not sure that this is true. We haven't really harnessed it yet. I
And that leads to the question: What are the modern promises of technology? Where are we going?
Tesla had that crazy idea about 100 years ago...