Some may remember the era of punched cards which were created by keypunch machines and sorted by, you guessed it, mechanical sorters. I programmed computers that took input from punched cards.
Herman Hollerith was their inventor and his idea worked itself into the creation of IBM.
The difference between the computational abilities of the punched card era and what most of us today have on our desk or in our pockets is mind boggling.
I contemplated this jump as I was reading the article and realized this represents just one of many areas of technological innovation that has passed from the time of individual inventors to the huge corporate structures that now mold today’s life.
Names have been given to generations. There’s the Greatest Generation born between 1901 and 1927 all the way through to Generation Alpha composed of those whose birth came after 2010. We tend to attribute characteristics to people based on their generation. Like accusing Millennials (born 1981-1996) of being self-centered and feeling entitled). I don’t like that because it reeks of generalization in which the uninspiring attributes of a subgroup are assumed to apply to the entire group, a practice I have castigated in a previous posting.
Nevertheless, I’m going to assign a name to a group of which I am a proud member. We are the Bridge Generation, because we have lived during the manifestation of the technology of early days and seen it blossom to what is now common. I won’t tell you the years of birth of this generation, but you can probably deduce it. The nice thing about this group is no generalizations can be drawn about individual characteristics. Our membership is defined by what has happened during our watch, not on actions we have individually taken.
Hollerith and his punched cards represent one instance of this shift. There are many more.
Let me list a few names you’ve probably heard of, along with their birth and death dates. All have had at least some time of life that overlapped with my own.
- Guglielmo Marconi, 1874-1937, purported inventor of radio.
- Edwin Howard Armstrong, 1890-1954, inventor of FM.
- Willis Carrier, 1876-1950, inventor of air conditioning.
- Orville Wright, 1871-1948, with brother Wilber, first demonstrators of flight (Wilber died in 1912, too early to make this list).
- William Shockley, 1910-1989, Walter Houser Brattain, 1902-1987, and John Bardeen, 1908-1991, inventors of the transistor,
These represent only a few of the people that could earn the right to be on this list because their lives overlapped mine. Oh, yes, and because they produced an initial prototype of a startingly new concept that has blossomed into modern versions.
There also are many who just missed the list by dying a little too early. A couple are:
- Our friend, Herman Hollerith, 1860-1929.
- Thomas Edison,1847-1931, inventor of so much.
Those early times were exciting as I hung around the edge of them.
Advances in today’s technology also are amazing and exciting.
But I wonder if we now feel the thrill that was a part of life for the Bridge Generation. We saw new ideas displayed on circuit boards using the best components of the day, soldering irons, and connecting wires snaking among the components.
Now we look at ridiculously small chips capable of so much more than could have been imagined in those early days. The difference is startling. Will the enormity of future advances strike us in the same way? Will we see the same awe-inspiring physical differences?
After all, the computer sitting on my desk is immensely more powerful than the one that was there 20 years ago. But it doesn’t look different in any significant way.
I feel extremely fortunate to have observed, by today’s standards, the seemingly elementary but scientifically brilliant beginnings of what could be considered a scientific revolution that led to the life we now lead.
Yes, I am pleased to be a member of the Bridge Generation.
As I have in the past, I am going to take off over the holidays. At least if nothing happens that I am unable to resist writing about. I hope you will tune in again in January.