The Wonders of Time Travel

I remember sitting in a nearly identical hotel room over eight years ago only a few miles down the road from where I am today and being amazed that I was on a business trip to Redmond, Washington.  At the time I was a small-business IT consultant working for TradeLabs in Montreal, wondering what direction my life would take.  It was not actually my first business trip – I had taken a couple when I worked at IGS Security – but it was my first trip as an IT Professional… and I was excited.  Besides, I loved to travel!

It is hard to believe that I have flown 500,000 miles since then.  It is harder to believe that there are still aspects of travel that still amaze me!  For instance:

I woke up last Friday morning at 7am in Maine.  Two hours after waking up I taught a class for eight hours before heading to the airport where I waited around for two hours.  I boarded a 1.25 hour flight  to Philadelphia, waited another hour, and then boarded a 5.75 hour flight to Seattle.  Because of the time zone change I was able to land in Seattle on the very same day – despite it being slightly less than 27 hours into the 26th of July.

For my grandfather’s 70th birthday my Uncle Ross wrote an epic poem retelling the history of my Zaide’s life, starting with his humble beginnings in a little shtetl in what is now the Ukraine.  Traveling with his mother the trip from Bobrinitz to Montreal took several months.  If you think Planes, Trains, and Automobiles in one trip is amazing, try incorporating into that walking for miles, mule-drawn hey carts, cattle cars, and ocean liners that were that in name only.  The time zones wouldn’t much have affected them – they didn’t have a watch or clock between them – except insofar as I guess they would sleep when it was dark and journey on when it was light.

My Zaide (z”l) lived to see the wondrous age of global transportation, but I would love to hear what his dear mother would have thought about waking up on the shores of the Atlantic ocean, working a full day, and then going to sleep on the shores of the Pacific ocean.

We live in an era combining the most amazing technologies in the history of the planet and the most blasé people taking it all for granted.  There was a time when people would board an airplane with awe and wonder.  Today we trudge through the gate, take our seats, and it is amazing how many people hardly even glance out of the window.  Now granted, air travel is neither as glamourous nor as comfortable as it once was (I watched the TV series Pan Am and was amazed to see some of the comforts travelers of that era enjoyed) but still… you are flying through the air with hundreds of other people in a metal tube with wings.  Folks, that is really cool stuff!

My son Aaron is 15 years old.  He is going into Grade 10 in the fall. Not only does he not know a world without the Internet, he has never lived in a house that didn’t have high speed Internet (whether that was cable or DSL)… he will likely never know the sound of a modem.  My younger son Gilad has never lived in a house without  ten computers in it – that is twice what IBM CEO Thomas Watson Sr. predicted would be needed in the entire world (yes I know the quote is not proven).  Neither has ever known a world without ubiquitous cellular and wireless technologies.

To put things in perspective, I grew up in a house with a typewriter (remember those?) and using my incredible childhood imagination (remember those?) pretended that it was a computer until we actually bought an Atari 800 in 1982.

There is great quote from Arthur C. Clarke: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  There seems to be an unfortunate corollary to that which is that any technology that is current is seen as commonplace and without any wonder.  That is too bad, because a lot of the things we do today would have amazed the 10 year old Mitch in 1982 who insisted on visiting every computer store in the neighbourhood to wonder at the Atari, Commodore, and Osborne computers.  He would have been astounded for certain that a USB key with 8 GB of storage would cost about the same as what he had to save up when he wanted to purchase a new 180kb floppy disc… of course, he would have been completely unfamiliar with both the terms USB (invented in 1995) and Gigabyte, nor would he have understood why anyone would ever need such ridiculous amounts of storage.

I am not saying that we should go back to a world without technology.  Far from it.  But any day that you feel so jaded by how plain your life is, sit back and think of what you have that was invented in your lifetime… in the last decade, possibly in the last year that before they were around would have been inconceivable.  Look at your Smartphone that can not only call anywhere in the world (long distance calls were rare when I was a child, and required a phone with wires and cables), but can play any game you want (Nintendo’s Gameboy put video games into our hands in 1989, twelve years after Atari put them onto our televisions), look up any information (the Internet became publicly available in the late 1980s but was not widely so until the late 1990s), read a book (Kindle launched in 2009), listen to music (iPod introduced in 2001), and a plethora of other things that I can’t begin to describe.  The laptop that I am writing this article on (did I mention how cool it is that I have a computer at all, let alone a portable one that I take with me) weighs less than five percent of what that old Smith Corona typewriter weighed.  I am reasonably sure that my Smartphone has more computing power than existed in the world in 1980.

If this isn’t enough to amaze you then you are just tough to impress, and I usually am too.  But every once in a while it is important to stop, sit back, and look at what we have from the perspective of where we came from.

Amazing!  Happy Friday friends.

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