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Let's Party Like It's 1991

We're in the process of relocating and our house is a disaster as we disembowel it. Dusty boxes we haven't seen in years populate our living room waiting to be rediscovered.

A few of these boxes contain old magazines from the late 1980s and 1990s. We're having fun reliving the good old days that constituted our now vague, life-before-kids youth (hey, we are Gen Xers). It's funny to read about what was going on back then, what people considered important and how people envisioned the future (e.g., 2003). It's interesting to see how far we've come (or not) and to discover how wrong people were in their predictions.

Case in point: I've been leafing through a copy of Time magazine dated August 12, 1991. The cover story is entitled "Busybodies & Crybabies: What's Happening To the American Character?" (some things never change...), but my favorite story is one entitled "What New Age? High-tech gizmos for home and office are readily available but underused. The Information Age just isn't all it's cracked up to be...yet."

The story talks about how the technology revolution isn't taking off as planned. Did you know that only 15% of American homes had a personal computer in 1991 and only 100,000 Americans were using a futuristic thing called computerized "home banking"? Fewer than 1% of Americans had a fiber optic cable connection at home and office workers thought "electronic mail" was a strange, overly-complicated technology. I love this paragraph:
Other technologies, like electronic mail, worked as promised but failed to overcome human habits. "E-mail" was supposed to put an end to memos, notes pads and letters. Readily embraced by techie types, it was shunned by secretaries and others because it proved too difficult to use. In 1988, Ben & Jerry's Homemade installed an E-mail system to serve the 200 staff members at its Waterbury, Vt., headquarters. But less than 30% use the system. Says Christopher Lamotte, a B&J inventory coordinator: "There are too many options, and every option has suboptions. It's easier to just pick up the phone."

Then there's this paragraph:

But have computers made workers more productive? Stephen Roach, a senior economist at Morgan Stanley, says white-collar productivity has been stagnant since the 1960s. By contrast, blue-collar productivity has improved by a factor of four. "Companies though that by simply buying boxes they would somehow make people work harder," says Roach. It didn't happen, Roach discovered, largely because the technology failed to reach the top: while back-office support jobs have been automated, less than 10% of senior executives even use computers.

Wow, we have come a long way, haven't we? It's something to ponder as you delete spam and do some online banking today.


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