Being a Caltech graduate and a former software engineer, I have always taken pride on being technology-savvy. Granted, I try to forget that the last microprocessor I programmed was an Intel 8088 using assembly language, but I never realized how behind on technology — and more specifically, web technology and communication — I was until I decided to start writing this blog.
When you think about it, even a mom-and-pop restaurant at your local strip mall needs a web presence and yet I — and I daresay most of my colleagues — know very little about setting up a website or blog, to say nothing of communicating in anything but email. Case in point: I posted the launch of my blog in Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I then followed up with about 500 direct emails to my contacts and only 1 person (not exaggerating) responded by saying that they saw the update.
I recognize the sad fact that I am out of touch with the new generation’s mode of communication. I know this because I find myself eschewing things like Twitter, Digg, Delicious and Facebook . I cling to email largely because it is a one-to-one communication and familiar to how I grew up: using the telephone and in person conversations. What I find to be awkward is spraying information to a multitude of users and hoping for a response — akin to waiting for an alien to answer a satellite broadcast — is perfectly normal and comfortable with my daughter’s generation.
So, as much as I would like to think that I once understood and used state-of-the-art technology, I now realize that I am way behind the times and that if I am going to “get with it” (as my kids say), I am going have to do something which is outside my comfort zone.
I asked my friend Bill Mitchell, someone who is really tech-savvy, to revise my article by bringing it “back into the future” and here is how it came out :
As a Caltech alum and former coder, I pride myself on techno-savvy.
At least I did. Until I realized that I’m like an aging football star still hanging around the high school, wearing the old jersey, into my late 20s. After all, isn’t Ruby on Rails just like 8088 assembly? Sure. Minus everything. Plus a bunch of completely unrelated stuff.
Technical stagnation is partly about one’s peer group. When I started posting, friends asked if they could get a PowerPoint version. I am totally not making that up. Even as Facebook claims over 600m accounts — basically the entire industrialized world — some of my cohort are not among them.
They will be your cohort someday. You will be 45, and a recent-grad-turned-entrepreneur will ask you to comment on his business plan via TwinklePie (CamelCase having, by then, gone all the way through passé to become retro-cool again). And you’ll have no idea what TwinklePie is. Hardware? Web service? Neural implant?
This is inescapable. It’s not just Luddite peers. Technology, like iodine-131, has a short half-life. Without constant investment in learning, decay is automatic.
On the other hand, technology strategy is not technology. It is strategy. And strategy’s half-life is more like plutonium: what worked a thousand years ago works today, and will work in a thousand years. Network effects worked for the Bell System and Santa Fe Railroad. Viral marketing worked for Paul the Apostle.
Invest in understanding strategy now, and you will understand it just as well — probably even better — when your friends are chattering through false teeth about how FaceBook went to hell after its acquisition by TwinklePie back in 2027.