03 October 2005

Obsolescence

The worst part of experiencing the digital age arrive first hand is the repeated waves of obsolescence. (Well, actually, it ranks about three or four, after seeing massive amounts of work inadvertantly deleted and battling computer viruses, and about on par with spam.)

The first personal copmuters came out twenty-five years ago, and since then, the wave of obsolescence has been relentless. The 8" floppy, the 5.25" floppy and in the near future, the 3.5" floppy, are all going the way of the 8 track, the vinyl record, and in the near future, the cassette tape. Dial up modems are now all but useless for using an internet designed for broadband speed access. Even broadcast television has disappeared from a majority of homes, replaced by cable and satellite programming. Film cameras are on the way out. So too are film videocameras, even at the high end for movie making. Even the venerable cathode ray tube is well on its way to being replaced by a variety of kinds of flat screen monitors and televisions. Internal computer memory has gone from 64 kilobytes to tens of megabytes and is well on its way to the gigabyte range, even for ordinary consumer level computers. Gigabyte sized hard drives are now not uncommon, and programs have bloated to match.

It will only be a matter of time before the popular compact disc and digital video disk (CD and DVD) formats are replaced by something new. Already, that are a huge variety of memory cards and fobs and portable hard drives on the market threatening to replace them, not to mention their cousin with built in I/O devices, the iPod. It is hard to tell the difference between a cell phone and a camera any longer. Satellite radio threatens to do to broadcast radio what cable and satellite TV have done to braodcast television.

If the movement to make Wi-Fi access universal in urban areas bears fruit, and it is certainly technologically possible and has precedents a variety of other urban services from libraries to electrical service, then broadband subscriptions may become a thing of the past, and the ultimate freeloader's medium, the internet, will become even less fee burdened.

Even books have become something of a niche market. I still own plenty of them, and I still buy them. But, the vast majority of my professional research and academic journal reading takes place on line. I also read a short story or novella installment a month on line from one of my favorite fiction authors, Kelley Armstrong. And, while I do subscribe to the newspaper and a number of magazines, I get most of my news on line. Indeed, I probably read as much of the Denver Post on line as I do in the copy that comes to my door each morning. A novel or a statute is better read in hard copy, but if something is either time dependent, or primarily a reference, an online format is more convenient. Indeed, Google and Wikipedia have almost entirely replaced my personal useage of encyclopedias.

I'd like to think that at some point, this will all settle down a little. Is it too much to dream that we might have only two more data storage revolutions before 2035? But, fortunately, at least, falling electronics prices have limited the price of progress. The only real question is when we will hit inherent engineering limitations that flow from the very laws of nature. We aren't there yet, but that horizon no longer seems impossibly distant.

1 comment:

Kyle said...

I understand how you feel. Very rapid upgardes in technology comes at a price, and sometimes people overestimate the value or underestimate the costs involved.

It was only a few years ago that I remember seeing tests that showed that increased processor speeds were making insignificant improvements in the speed of computers due to ancient motherboard architecture and bottlenecks in bus speeds. This has since been improved upon only to leave awful bottlenecks in harddrive transfer speeds and various access times.

My point is that many people didn't realize this. The speed that technology is being upgraded makes it difficult (or near impossible) to keep up with it, causing people to waste money on things that aren't needed and waste time learning about things they won't need to know in just a few years.

I've been working on learning LaTeX, but I'm not sure why. I have no doubt it will go the way of Basic, QuickBasic, Pascal, Dos3.0, Dos5.0, Windows 3.x and every other technological language i've learned in the past 20 years.

Thankfully there are success stories like Wikipedia to keep my morale up.