Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Notes from the Digital Chasm

I have two friends.  I’ll call them Bert and Ernie.  

Bert is 72 (a Baby Boomer), lives on the East Coast, and is mostly retired after a successful career in consumer marketing, including running a business that made stuff (as opposed to, say, a business that manufactured zeros and ones).  Bert is technically savvy and aware, and usually has the latest i-Gizmo.

Ernie is in his early 40s (a Gen X), lives on the West Coast, and teaches at a private boys’ school.  He’s a runner, and a good one, not to mention being an enthusiastic and fearless early-adopter of technology.

In February, I wrote a post comparing tech giants of the twenty-first century (gathered at Trump Tower) to those of the nineteenth century (see here).  Needless to say, I was underwhelmed by the current crop, writing:
Online shopping vs. surgical anesthesia. Online search engine vs. cast-iron construction. Online social networking vs. the system of interchangeable parts. Online payments vs. the mechanical reaper and new forms of corporate organization.  Computer software and consumer electronics vs. vulcanized rubber. Computer technology vs. the first American steam locomotive.  Middleware vs. the telegraph.  Big Data vs. the rotary press. 
I wondered in the post if maybe historian Richard Hofstadter had been correct when he wrote, "Once great men created fortunes; today a great system creates fortunate men."

That’s when Ernie dropped me a note from Oakland.  It was clear I wasn’t looking closely enough at what our modern industrial giants had wrought.   Here’s what he wrote: