“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana
“Those who reject the achievement of past innovations are due a smack.” — George Tucker
Ours is an industry driven by change. Margins and growth are, more often than not, based on a premise of installing what’s new in place of the old.
We post with the glee of an Aztec priest holding the still-beating heart of the sacrificed, photos of the now disgorged gear — its entrail like cables gripped firmly in hand, the enclosure slumped and askew. “Look at this old dog,” the status update reads, with nary a thought of the engineering breakthroughs and months of work the product required to make it.
The Logan’s Run Syndrome
How we treat older technologies can be summed up by the plot of the movie Logan’s Run. The film describes a post apocalyptic dystopian society, where to maintain resources in the hermetically sealed environment, life is ended at 30.
When does “old” start? While we rush headlong into the slick, the glossy, the virgin snow, in the adrenaline haze of mass disposal in the name of disruption — we are losing lessons of the past. Despite our tendency to see familiarity in contempt, there are talismans to those seeking the next paradigm shift.
The ultra-modern interfaces beckon us with their sexy, slinky presentations and the flirty feedback of virtual buttons. The response to touch are multi-layered and subtlety sublime. Like the ornate and delicate confections of boutique bakeries the allure stirs deep unconscious emotions. Is it really what is wanted or, more importantly, needed? Does it work?
Consider the simplest of our modern interfaces, the switch, and more specifically the light switch. It has a very specific job to do, turn on or off the lights. The action requires very little thought to complete, a quick flick of the wrist, and it’s done! They have limitations, of course — they can only perform one function and when multiple zones are to be controlled, they take up massive real estate on the wall.
Touch panels have the ability to provide a universe of zones on a single screen but end users grow weary of the five-step finger dance to dim a light. Like the salacious sweets, we learn that the new and exotic may not always be what is needed — even if desired. Manufacturers answered with screens that harken back to the switch by including tactile buttons on the side for single tasks.
It’s worth noting that among the main industry manufacturers, simple two- and four-button keypads are on the short list of top sellers.
Not Just The Greatest Band In The Land
To those who pay attention to such things, programming, and more specifically the languages used, have far outstripped their predecessors.
Modern coding allows for a dizzying array of control concepts whose acuity and flexibility are only limited in function to the imagination of the programmer. From controlling entire communities infrastructure to complete virtual worlds — the command lines are the new DNA.
Remarkably, the single greatest achievement in human history was completed during the early adolescence of modern coding. Apollo 11 used computers, which had processing power that was only a modicum of a present day children’s toy, to send men (238,855 miles) to the moon and back. A feat akin to solving Fermat’s last theorem with an abacus.
The run sequences were sparse as a necessity, code need not be trim but Spartan in form. The lessons of one generation’s experience is to first and foremost KISS it. This is not just the self-proclaimed “greatest band in the land,” it is also the top commandment of installation: Keep It Simple.
Limitations, especially when self-imposed, can inspire more creative solutions all while keeping the client experience high, and reducing costs. Taking a good look at what was necessary in the past can lead to more efficient systems today.
What The Ancients Knew
The phenomenon of losing great gains in technology for decades or hundreds of years is not new, in fact it goes back to the beginnings of civilization. Technologies of the past are lost and need to be rediscovered because the focal motivation of the culture, or an industry, becomes distracted by change.
The ancient Minoan cultures of the second millennium BC had developed running water flush toilet systems. Centuries later the Roman Empire also spread a version along with their water distribution aqueducts, only to be lost as the boundaries retreated. A vital technology lost several times, over multiple cultures, condemning humanity to filth and sewage born diseases until the 19th century.
In the realm of “hardcore” technology, nothing exemplifies an ancient development which could have changed the world more than Antikythera Mechanism. The device, discovered in 1900s from a shipwreck of about 100 BC, is considered by many to be the first analog computer. It is believed to be an astronomical navigation tool, pre-dating the Babbage Difference engine by at least a millennia. Just imagine what great leaps we could have taken if this technology had been developed and spread!
Progress As Paradox
While it is true that development and paradigm change are essential and a direct result of our human impulse — it should not come with disregard for the past. What “discarded” technology do you think we can advance from looking at again?
George Tucker, CTS, is engineering coordinator for Worldstage and co-founder, producer and personality for AVNation.tv.