The Future As Boiled Frog

I am sitting in a cafe in Prague typing this in Open Office Writer on an Asus eeePC netbook running Ubuntu 10.10. I was thinking about working on my old Amstrad CPC 6128 in Edinburgh back in 1986 and the fact that the future has come like that famous frog, the one that doesn’t notice it is being boiled alive because the water around it is being heated so slowly. It’s small changes here, small changes there and then without ever really realising it, you are living in a science fiction world.

I think of this netbook as being an underpowered cheap machine but it is monstrously more powerful than the CPC 6128 I wrote my first stories on. I mean it has something like 10000 times as much RAM,  the processor is many orders of magnitude more powerful. It has a hard disk for storage. The screen is in colour. It weighs a fraction of what the CPC did and has almost 8 hours of battery life. It connects to the Internet and a global e-commerce network that did not even exist back then and it does it invisibly and wirelessly while I sit in a cafe drinking coffee.

I am writing this on a free word-processor on a free operating system that is superior to the best OS even 10 years ago. This computer cost me less in actual money than the CPC 6128. In real terms (ie adjusted for inflation) it is a fraction of the price. That’s what 25 years has done. I confess I am grateful. I strongly suspect that without the word-processor I would never have become a writer. I was never very comfortable with the typewriter and I disliked writing in long hand. If you had hand-writing like mine, you would to.

It is both an advantage and a disadvantage of growing old that you remember stuff like this. My son has grown up surrounded by miracles he takes for granted. He plays games with friends on different continents inside virtual worlds of photographic realism. He researches his homework by accessing the sort of global database that I remember Arthur C Clarke predicting we would one day have. I envy him growing up in a world like this but, of course, I suspect my father envied me the same thing. I can remember him explaining to me how there was no television when he was a lad. In his seventy five years, he never set foot in an aeroplane. He belonged to a generation of working class men who never went abroad unless someone put a gun in their hand and told them to shoot something. Doubtless Daniel will explain to his son that they never had holodecks when he was a lad.

The future is still coming, the same way it always did, slowly, a day at a time, like a frog being boiled. It’s something to think about as the year comes to a close.

 

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Comments

  1. I sometimes get annoyed when writing emails on my phone that I can’t insert certain special characters I know I could find if I had Outlook to hand, and then I realise: I’m writing emails on my phone…

  2. Great post, Bill. My first computer was an old PC running DOS that had three games on it: Prince of Persia, Dave and some random F1 racing one. I remember booting stuff from a 5″ floppy disk!! Good times! Now every computer comes with the latest hi-end OS, several gigs of ram, DVD+/-RW multidrives and what not. The floppy disks have gone the way of the dodo. I feel old at 24 😛

    • You just brought back memories of those 5.25 inch drives. I had forgotten about them. I can remember booting Protext on a PC from those. It’s astonishing when you think you once needed to boot your word-processor from a floppy and save your files onto another. Even more astonishing when you consider things like lack of multi-tasking. How did we ever get anything done? And yet we did!

      • Haha indeed! I remember booting games from one of those disks on my Win95 PC. And storing random files that had to with cataloging my books, random images I liked and what not. That’s a good 14-15 years back. And I confess, I never really did get anything done with those disks. I ended up ruining most of them because, being an ignorant kid, I liked to play with their sliders. Hehe.

        • I still have some old 3.5 inch floppies from the 90’s and some ZIP cartridges of similar vintage. Remember the days when 100 MB was an awesome amount of portable storage? I found another with half of a long lost Gotrek and Felix story on it. Sadly I can’t remember what I did with the thing.

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