A Futurist Looks Back

Extrapolation is second nature to me.  It’s how I’m wired.  I look at how things are and I make an instantaneous projection of how they will be in the future.  Maybe it’s intuition; maybe it’s analysis functioning at a cognitive level that I cannot quite discern.  Maybe those two possibilities are actually the same thing.

Either way, it’s a part of my nature and it has fueled a lifelong passion for futuristic thinking.

At the same time, there is much to be learned by looking back, and I indulged myself a bit recently as I thought back to what the information technology industry looked like when I first entered it.  Here are a few recollections:

  1. It wasn’t called IT, it was called DP (Data Processing).
  2. I programmed by typing lines of code onto 80-column cards using a keypunch machine – one line at a time.  (When I was done, I put a rubber band around my card deck in case I were to drop it.)
  3. To compile my program, I ran the card deck through a card reader.  (Then I printed off the compiler output on an impact printer to see if it had compiled cleanly.)
  4. My first programming language was FORTRAN.  (My second was COBOL.  My third was IBM S/370 Assembler Language.  My fourth was C. My fifth was MS Visual Basic.)
  5. One of my first tasks when I installed a new computer was to assemble the Supervisor (e.g., operating system).
  6. Virtual storage was a relatively new concept.
  7. Bisync was the dominant communications protocol.
  8. Few of my customers could afford a 9600 bps phone line for data communications.
  9. Online transaction processing was capturing the imagination of the industry.
  10. 1MB of real memory was usually enough.

The main observation I make, retrospectively, is that nearly everything changed at a rate and to a scale beyond anything I imagined possible back then.  I take that lesson forward now, yet I suspect the future will still be beyond what I can imagine today.