Would you rather give up the internet or indoor plumbing?

By Aaron Holmes

Guest Editorial for January 28

Monday, January 28 2013

Each generation’s technological revolution is taken for granted by the next, and builds on it in ways that are hard to imagine or predict, and equally hard to give up, once you have them.

You only have to go back three generations to the 1920s to get to the first commercialized light bulb.

For the generation that remembered what it was like without the light bulb this was revolutionary. The generation after that, took electric light for granted, but welcomed indoor plumbing. Outhouses were still (regular) fixtures on rural farms into the 1960s.

By the 1980s you’d quit imagining life without indoor plumbing. By then the early adopters were talking on their car phones about their graphical computers.

Today, you’re in the minority if there isn’t a smartphone within arm’s reach of wherever you’re reading this. That smartphone would rival a supercomputer a generation ago, and they weren’t using it for Angry Birds.

What’s next: Children of today will take electric light, indoor plumbing, graphical computing and ubiquitous internet for granted. They’ll build on what exists today and make the same kind of leap that transcends imagination.

For those of us awash in a cloud of data, the loss of the always-on data connection that keeps us connected would certainly rival losing indoor plumbing.

Access to all the world’s information has become a utility, like water or electricity. It’s something else we’ve come to ‘need’.

Of course this is a ‘first world problems’ mentality. There are third world countries where indoor plumbing would be a big win. It’s impossible to envision modern life without it.

Over most of human history you wouldn’t be able to notice changes between generations. The culture was established and stayed pretty much constant.

As our rate of change continues to accelerate, staying current is a challenge, as is the reflection on what it means and what it’s for.

No matter whether it’s an electric light or the latest smartphone, or something we won’t imagine for 30 years, make sure it works for you, and not the other way around.

The tech doesn’t define the purpose of your life. 

It helps you accomplish it.