If you’re old enough to remember what it was like to be a “road warrior” in the heyday of “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” you probably realize how much most of us take for granted the past decade’s stunning advances in consumer technology. For me, the early years of the Clinton administration were marked by some images that I now find as nostalgically amusing as hearing someone say “show me the money!”
1. Power Chord Spaghetti – Although our mobile devices are still tethered to power outlets, we live in an age of functional convergence. Packing for a business trip in the early-90’s involved a few extra (and now-obsolete) checklist items: a cellphone (the old bulky version); a pager (a must in the days before phone texting); and a PDA (the most popular “personal data assistant” in my office was the Palm Pilot). Today, a smartphone can handily perform all the data and voice capabilities that had once required three devices.
2. Stylus Staccato – Remember tirelessly tapping away on your PDA with that little plastic pencil? Although some of us use a stylus on our tablets, most of us are accustomed to typing directly on our mobile devices. The late Steve Jobs had strong convictions about removing these implements from the consumer’s experience of interacting with Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) tablet devices. Most of us now take touch-pad devices for granted. Images of stylus typing on PDA’s are now the stuff of sitcom site gags.
3. Pay Phone Pandemonium – As a frequent air traveler, I vividly recall the chaotic rush to the nearest public phone bank that accompanied announcements of flight delays. Some of the most eventful phone conversations of my early career — job offers, interviews, important conference calls — took place while I was hunched over a pay phone near the gate of a departing flight or train. Our smartphones haven’t necessarily made our conversations more private, but they’ve undoubtedly made them feel more personal.
4. Floppy Disk Fumbling – Toting my old, bulky laptop (now called a notebook) computer in the 90’s required an accompanying collection of hard plastic storage files. I still have boxes of them somewhere in my closet. Whether you call them stick drives, key drives or pen drives, most of us would agree that traveling with small USB flash drives is a step-up in convenience and portability. Alas, even the once vaunted flash drive has gone the way of the stylus, cast aside in favor of saving files to the cloud.