Re: Tech Writing & The Economy

Subject: Re: Tech Writing & The Economy
From: Sandy Harris <sandy -at- storm -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2002 13:20:21 -0500

SteveFJong -at- aol -dot- com wrote:

> Nora's gloomy future prediction prompts me to list a few technology-based
> predictions of the past, made in all earnestness, that were invalidated by
> technological progress. (I'm playing fast and loose with the timeframes, but
> the predictions are all true.)
> At the close of the 19th century, it was predicted that by the close of the
> 20th century, the streets of our cities would be ten feet deep--up to the
> second stories!--in horse manure from all the wagon traffic. (Invalidated by
> the internal-combustion engine.)
> At the close of the 19th century, it was predicted that by 1950 everyone in
> America would either be on the phone or operating a switchboard. (Invalidated
> by automated switching systems.)
> In the 1940s, it was predicted that the total worldwide market for computers
> was ten units. Ken Olsen of Digital Equipment (who helped to invalidate the
> first prediction) said there was no market for home computers.

Yes, something along the lines of asking why on Earth anyone would ever want
such a thing for. However, a friend of mine did a lot of work on DEC machines
and has met Olsen. He claims that the remark was tongue in cheek, since at
the time Olson and his wife (name escapes me, founder of the Computer Museum)
each had a VAX at home.

> Bill gates (who helped to invalidate the second) said no one would ever need
> more than 384KB of RAM.

That's usually quoted as 640K. Recent discussion on another list gave a URL
for a "debunking urban legends" site which said this was bogus and linked
to Gate's denial.

Such things are discussed in the newsgroup alt.folklore.computers. The FAQ
for that group ( would be the place to look them up.

> Steve Jong said there was no reason to rip CDs onto disk when
> CDs themselves were perfectly adequate 8^)
> In the 1950s it was predicted that America's hospitals would be filled with
> polio patients in iron lungs. (Invalidated by Jonas Salk.)
> The one constant of technological change is that we don't know where it will
> come from, but it always has appeared when needed.

Another is that it usually creates new problems. Arguably we might be
better off with several meters of manure than with smog, traffic jams,
traffic accidents, various nations' foreign policies heavily influenced
by the need for oil, ....

> That may be the invisible
> hand at work, or perhaps the Invisible Hand. I am optimistic that (a) the
> hand will come again, and (b) I'll make a good living documenting it 8^

Even if there's not much radically new technology, likely most of us will
still be able to work documenting applications of the existing stuff.

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RE: Tech Writing & The Economy: From: SteveFJong

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