Change: Technology, culture and people. Part I of III


Nome and I have been going to work in the morning for over fifty years, for the past 23 years to our shop, The Computer Factory, in San Marcos. We spent our first 30 years in engineering and management with some of America’s premier “high tech” corporations. Our list includes Westinghouse, FMC, Control Data, NCR, Packard Bell, United Telecom, Belden, Volker Craig and Systems Engineering Laboratories. During those years we took part in the development, design, manufacture, distribution, marketing and support of consumer and commercial electronics. For the past two decades, at the Computer Factory, we’ve been where “the rubber meets the road” in the explosive growth of consumer computer and communications technology. When you work it every day, technological changes blend seamlessly into an unbroken line. But when you step back and look at how technology has changed the way we live, communicate and think during our lifetimes, it is absolutely mind boggling.

In the next several columns we will do a retrospective on how technology has affected us and our world. This is purely from our point of view and not an academic study in sociology. This is how we see technology changing the culture, attitudes and behavior of ourselves, customers, friends, family, community and the country. There are monumental differences in the way millennials (under 35), post millennials (Xgens or tweeners) and seniors (over 55) view the world and one another. We are going to explore some of those differences and the way they affect people in day to day relationships.

To set the tone for our discussion we take note of a couple of interesting if not startling facts. First, the “Knowledge Doubling Curve” posits that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today, on average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months.  According to IBM, the build out of the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.

Second, looking at the top ten most valuable American companies in 1917, 1967 and 2017 reveals long term changes in our technological focus.

In 1917 the ten most valuable American companies where: US Steel, AT&T, Standard OIL, Bethlehem Steel, Armour, Swift, International Harvester, DuPont, Midvale Steel and US Rubber.  Oil, steel, rubber and food. This was a country on the move, growing, building and expanding. Technology was focused upon those needs.

In 1967 Americas most valuable companies were: IBM, AT&T, Eastman Kodak, General Motors, Standard Oil, Texaco, Sears, GE, Polaroid, and Gulf Oil. IBM sold products to businesses not consumers, AT&T did both as did General Motors and the oil companies Eastman Kodak, Polaroid, GE and especially Sears were essentially consumer oriented.

2017 Americas most valuable companies were: Apple, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Berkshire Hathaway, Johnson and Johnson, Exxon Mobile, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo. With the exception of Johnson and Johnson and Exxon, none of these companies produce products that you can touch or feel. Apple does sell products but they don’t make them, they are basically a sales rep for Chinese computer, phones and accessories. The other four of the first five sell services. Three of the second five companies also sell services not products.

Over the past 100 years our most valuable companies have changed from ones that produce business and infrastructure related technology to those providing business and consumer services technology. Next week we’ll begin the discussion on how technology is forcing people to change in fundamental ways.