2002-01-20 – The pace of change

I am sure that you have noticed how rapidly the pace of modern life is increasing. On a geological time scale, humans have evolved into the creatures that we are, yet the majority of us would not even survive if we went back in time 1000 years, with the diseases that were rampant or endemic, the slow pace of life, where being 100 years either side of your target date would be impossible to notice unless you tried. I am used to having the majority of the world’s information resources at my finger-tips, and lots in my head. If we take modern day, today, in fact, if we were to jump back a year, we would perhaps not notice much (except for the current affairs and the like). However, if we go back 5, we would rapidly miss things that we are used to having. Back ten, and it would be very, very noticeable. Back 20 years, and we wouldn’t even have computers as we recognise them today, nothing more than the most infant Internet, consisting mostly of Bulletin Boards and discrete servers. No mobile phones, tamagotchi, airbags in cars, the list is long.. Even things that have been around for years would be very different, as they have often received a hi-tech make-over, for example, \”the Dyson\”, the word that has replaced \”the Hoover\” as the name for a vacuum in the UK.

How much faster can things change? How rapidly can things change for humans to withstand the strain on our eons old nervous systems?

At work, I am responsible for implementation of new systems, which are often much maligned, not often due to “but we always did that like this”, but more “we can’t keep up, which one should we use today!?”. Even the intelligent employees seem to find it a difficult thing to simply pick the newest version of a file, as indicated by the name and version number. Here, we aren’t even talking a daily change, but something that is stable, often for weeks, before the next minor tweak or update, to add a requested feature or fix a minor bug. Very little of this affects the front pages, the UI, so to speak, that we build. The only change is to the number that is appended to the icon. It is always the icon at the top of the list. Yet all these people with degrees and doctorates and 20 years experiance cannot cope!

I am used to change, and have rapidly come to grips with some of the most rapidly changing data sets in history, for example, streaming stock market data. I rarely now completely trust any data set that is NOT in a state of flux. If it isn’t changing, even slowly, then it isn’t real-time, which means it isn’t up to date. I can cope.

I suspect that the rate of change will continue to increase, and that we will try to use more and more tools to manage it, but, at the end of the day, those of us who adapt fastest will stay ahead of the slower. The kids of today will grow up with no certainty in their lives. This may be more than many can take.

I am not into predicting trends too far into the future. Often, these days, the future is already in a lab somewhere, waiting for the day when it will be unveiled. Those days are now coming sooner, and faster.. And the cycle goes on and on, faster and faster…

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