I currently work for an Information Technology consulting company. IT seems to be a popular field these days. The technology available to us is truly incredible and way beyond anything I could have imagined 30 years ago, when I started my career. I bought my first computer in 1987. It was made by IBM and considered a portable. It had a 5 ” monochrome screen and a fold down keyboard. This thing weighed close to 50 lbs and was anything but user-friendly. I quickly realized I had bought my very first boat anchor. No boat just an anchor.
I was still convinced that computers were a necessary part of any good business and therefore kept looking for something better. I think it was around 1989 that Apple introduced the Macintosh II. This was greeted like sliced bread within the graphic arts community. The desktop publishing gold rush had arrived and everybody had to have this computer. The one I bought had 16 meg of RAM and a 140 meg hard drive. With a laser printer and a 19″ monochrome monitor I blew through $15,000 really quickly. That was before I started buying the software. A copy of Pagemaker, Illustrator and Photoshop burned up another $1500 only to find out that these were woefullly inadequate tools for the graphic arts business I owned. They worked, but the time it took to produce a finished product was painfully slow. Maple syrup in January moves faster.
Of course part of the problem was none of us knew how to use a computer. I eventually tried to hire someone who had computer skills. Computer skills is apparently a generic term meaning, “I have sat in front of a monitor and played games”. If you think it’s bad now you should have been around in the early 90’s when everybody wanted to do desktop publishing. I even had a plumber’s wife show up one day asking me for advice on how to use the $50,000 worth of equipment she had just purchased so she could compete with me. I don’t think she appreciated my honesty when I said, “Lady, if I bought a pipe wrench would that make me a plumber?”
The gold rush eventually subsided and the old established companies were the only survivors, at least for the next 10 years. Even among the survivors there was a period of fierce competition as we all tried to outdo each other with the latest, greatest thing. The suppliers and manufacturers loved this period because it meant we were all buying new stuff every year. I averaged $50,000 a year in new equipment and or software from 1991 to 1999. Some of it worked great, most of it went to the dumpster in less than 6 months. Whenever I hear the word CorelDraw I have nightmares. Drunken sailors on leave must have written that code. It had virtually no features useful to graphic arts production. It looked okay on the screen and it had tons of clip art, but trying to get it out of the printer was an exercise in futility. They must have owned stock in laser paper and toner manufacturers because it was great at creating demand for those supplies. I will never forget the day we called tech support at Corel to ask a simple question and were told, “Yes we know that’s a problem and if you figure it out would you let us know.”
By the late 90’s we had finally mastered most of this technology. By combining the computer with our more traditional photographic skills we were able to produce an incredible amount of work and make a very nice profit. Then the technology changed again and it became a feeding frenzy of lowest price wins. I call it the Walmart effect. I want it today and I want it cheaper than I paid for it yesterday and if you won’t give it to me I will go to the next shop that will. Let me tell you how that ends. We all left the business by the early 2000’s as our profit dimes turned into pennies and then into nothing.
Now, another 10 years have passed and information technology is more ubiquitous than ever. The speed at which we are able to work is mind boggling. Back in the day we used to go for a coffee break when we had to rotate a Photoshop image. Does anyone remember the dial up modem and that weird little screech it made to let you know there was a very slight chance that it was going to work? These days we are so spoiled we can’t wait 5 seconds for a streaming full screen video to download. And then there’s social media like this blog. Just how many ways do we need to be connected electronically? I haven’t seen my next door neighbor in weeks this winter but I know exactly what he’s been doing while we were hermetically sealed in our houses. Too much information has been replaced with not enough time to get more information. I have to wonder where this will end? My daughter is getting an IPod Touch from her brother for her birthday. Last year he gave her a Garmin GPS without Bluetooth. Geez, what was he thinking ? Next year maybe we’ll have Bluetooth implants in the back of our heads or as piercings. Bluetooth jewelry, now there’s an idea!
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