technology

The Times They Are A-Changin’

 http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/01/rip-stop-telegrams/425136/ In the past, sending a telegram was one of the fastest ways of sending a message. Today technology has changed that.
President-elect Trump will find it difficult to fulfill some of his campaign promises such as bringing back coal and manufacturing jobs. His followers want him to give them their country back and make it the way it used to be. Make America great again is the chant.

The good news is that, although there are many improvements to be made, America is already great. The bad news is that there is no backward time travel. Technology has built a wall behind us and our only choice is to move forward. If we don’t move forward, we will fail.

We all know how every four years or so, our computers are out-of-date. In the 1980’s I had a Kaypro computer and a Diablo daisy-wheel printer. Eventually, with new operating systems on the market, the Kaypro was retired. I looked for someone to buy the printer which once cost a whopping $500, but there were no buyers. In fact, there were no takers for a free item. It broke my heart to take that beautiful, expensive printer to the dump.

Sadly, that is the story for many. Technology, which has brought us smart TV’s, GoPro’s, mobile phones that take stunning photos and watches that talk like the ones in the old Dick Tracy comics, has created graveyards for things we used every day.

Advances in technology are not only challenging for individuals but for businesses too. Look at one of the largest success stories in this country, Kodak.

After a series of imaging technology successes by George Eastman in 1892, the Eastman Kodak Company began. The company introduced the public to a daylight-loading camera and over the years it grew and introduced new film products. By 1946, two years after I was born, Kodak had more than 60,000 employees. In 1975, Kodak invented the first digital camera that captured black and white images at .01 megapixels. Imagine that! By 1982 the company’s sales soared beyond the $10 billion mark with plants scattered around the country and abroad. Kodak was at its peak in 1988 when the company employed 145,300 workers worldwide. 

Kodak’s stock in 1999 had shares around $80. In 1990, its annual sales were $19 billion. In 2011, its stock was 78 cents per share and in 2012, Kodak entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. What happened?

In spite of inventing the world’s first digital camera, why did Kodak fail? The company failed to accept that digital technology would disrupt the film world which its empire centered on. Around 1981, the company conducted research with results revealing that digital could replace film in as short a time as a decade. With this information, Kodak had time to prepare to adapt to changing times.

The company did not learn from the history of its founder, George Eastman, who avoided earlier failure by recognizing that he had to change with the times. He gave up a profitable dry-plate business for film. Later he invested in color film, even though its quality was inferior to black and white. Kodak, however, did not prepare for the more recent overthrow of film. It was in denial.
Today, the company that used to be a household name has only $2 billion in sales annually and 8,000 employees worldwide. Its Rochester campus once had 200 buildings on 1300 acres. Today 80 buildings have been demolished and 59 others sold.

Like Kodak, other industries have declined in the face of technology and less demand for certain products.

For example, the coal industry is facing a decline in demand. With new inventions in technology and new ways of doing things, fewer miners were needed today. In 1914, there were 180,000 anthracite miners; but by 1970, there were only 6,000. Employment in bituminous that was used for generation of electricity was at 705,000 in 1923, 140,000 in 1970 and 70,000 in 2003. Also, a drop in natural gas prices after 2010 became severe competition for the coal industry. Coal production declined in the U.S. by 29% in the first weeks of 2016. Production expenses increased as President Obama pushed for changes to leasing of public lands for oil, coal and gas. “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future,” the President said. The movement today is away from coal toward cheaper natural gas, even in China. In 2014 and 2015, the amount of power generated from coal in the U.S. fell by 226,000 gigawatt-hours while the amount of power produced from natural gas increased by 208,000 gigawatt-hours. We are not using the same products that were once in demand.

Factory jobs have also decreased. The U.S. lost five million manufacturing jobs since 2000, not necessarily the result of trade with other countries. In 1960, one out of four American workers had manufacturing jobs. Today fewer than one in ten people work in the manufacturing sector. In our history, we have seen jobs go from fields to factories and now to service jobs such as nurses, personal care aides, cooks, waiters and retail sales. In another hundred years demand for service jobs might migrate to yet another area.

My husband is fond of saying he has proof that time travel exists but the bad news is it only goes in one direction. To survive, we need to adapt and change. Those who used to own a horse and buggy eventually bought cars. Those who used typewriters eventually moved to word processors and now computers. Times they are a-changin’. We can appreciate the past and fondly remember the days of our grandparents, but they will never come back. Nostalgia is one thing. Clinging to the past is another.

So, Trump supporters, it just ain’t going to happen. Your new President cannot roll back the clock.

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