Even if it manages to avoid the humiliation of ending up next to Sony's Betamax in a rubbish pile, the best any technology can hope for—no matter how revolutionary and life-altering—is to one day be taken for granted. If you don't believe me, look an acquaintance dead in the eye at your next dinner party and begin waxing eloquent about the wheel.
Never mind that everything from Smokey and the Bandit (Parts I, II, and III) to...well... civilization is inexorably tied to the technological marvel that is the wheel. But if a person can't download the entire Talking Heads song catalogue to it while simultaneously watching King Kong in hi-def on it, text messaging a friend from it, and calling in dinner reservations at Chez Pompous with it, then it's "dinosaur technology," and they don't want to talk about it.
Before you can even get around to mentioning the wheel's sister invention, the axle (which I don't think gets enough recognition), the initial expression of bemused indifference you see on the dinner acquaintance's face will have rapidly devolved into the eye-darting panic of someone looking for an out. He or she will find something very interesting beckoning from afar and drift away, all the while formulating an ironclad strategy for avoiding any future one-on-one encounters with you. Now, if you were to open that same conversation with, say, a PDA programming tip, then...voila!...you, my friend, would be what's known as the life of the party.
The end product of most technological development nowadays is a never-ending stream of little gadgets that tinker around the edges of life, purporting to make our existence incrementally easier or a smidgen more productive by enabling our telephone to talk to our refrigerator or some such nonsense. These gadgets eat our time and attention, and we're eager to serve ourselves up because we're fascinated, sometimes justifiably. But time spent marvelling gape-mouthed at the new BlackBerry stylus' functionality and design robs us of time perhaps better spent appreciating profoundly powerful technological advances-of-old that have since become so elemental to our experience that they've faded into the background music. I'm thinking here about another dinosaur technological advance like, say,...oh, I don't know...flying!
Realize for a moment that if Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Daniel Boone, and a horde of Viking warriors were on your next Southwest Airlines flight (can you just imagine the Pay-Per-View revenue that fight for seats would generate?), to a man they'd be shrieking for mommy at takeoff. They'd be trying in vain to comfort one another in a quivering group hug at 10,000 feet, just as the 21st- century crowd powers up their laptops and pulls down the window shade to prevent that pesky sunlight (reflecting off the tops of the clouds, mind you) from polluting their front-row view of Excel or PowerPoint. Right around 32,000 feet, just when you're looking to kick back and get a little shut-eye, old Genghis—indisputably one of the top three fiercest warriors of all time—will be wetting himself comatose.
Go ahead; I challenge you to show Genghis Khan your wonderful new BlackBerry stylus. He'll probably stab you in the neck with it and claim your suburban half-acre for his own. Show him your iPhone, and...well, he'll probably find a way to stab you in the neck with it and claim your suburban half-acre for his own. (Hey, he's not one of the top three fiercest for nothing.)
I dare you to try explaining to a Viking warrior why watching Jay Leno on your wristwatch is a good and valuable thing. And as for Daniel Boone, I'm afraid the whole big-screen TV thing would be lost on him, but I bet he could fashion one helluva lean-to out of the Sharp 108-inch LCD flat-panel with HD.
Realize that just by stepping on a plane in the normal course of our daily lives, we—beings who spend an embarrassing proportion of each day sitting down or lying prone and looking for new ways to amuse ourselves—accomplish something Alexander the Great and the whole gang believed only possible in myths: We fly way faster than even the fastest horse can run.
We can take off from one coast and land on a dime (on wheels; remember wheels?) thousands of miles away on the other coast in just a few hours, with a vantage point in between that was unfathomable for all of human existence until just a few generations ago. We can look down on the tops of mountains if we so choose.
So choose. When in flight, either continue striving to organize your life down to the nano-second or sacrifice a minute or two, get your head out of your PDA, and look out the window.
Michael Stuhlreyer is a business writer, a graphic designer, and president of Stuhlreyer Business Instruments, LLC, a Nashville-based firm specializing in the creation of marketing and sales support materials, as well as articles, case studies, and product profiles for technology companies. Email Mike at email@example.com or visit his Web site.