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40 Years of Tech, 40 Years of Me

1972. Iconic movies The Godfather, Dirty Harry and A Clockwork Orange were released to critical and public acclaim. David Bowie dominated the music scene in his new guise as Ziggy Stardust, with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars proving to be a seminal moment in pop history. And Led Zeppelin toured one of the best selling albums of all time, the untitled Led Zeppelin IV. Oh, and the internet was first demonstrated privately by the US Department of Defense…

Yes, it’s been 40 years since the internet was first developed. The initial system, called ARPAnet, was devised in 1969 and, after initial demonstrations in the early 1970s, came to fruition along with the first email program in 1973. So why raise it now? Well, today’s my 40th birthday and, if you’ll forgive the self-indulgence that comes with a midlife crisis, I thought I’d take a look back at what tech was around 40 years ago. And it goes to show just how far we’ve come.

Moon Landings & Pocket Calculators

Bear in mind at this point that we’d already been on the moon for three years and that, in 1972, not one but two Apollo missions landed there (if you don’t believe the conspiracy theorists, that is). Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan became the last men to walk on the moon that year; incredible to think that given all the technological advances in the decades since, it’s been 40 years since anyone has returned.

PongAnd those technological advances have been significant. 1972 saw the introduction of the first digital watch, the development of the Compact Disc by RCA in the USA (in CD-ROM format, although the CD didn’t become commercially viable until the mid 1980s) and the first commercially successful video game, Atari’s PONG. And if you’re too young to remember the marvel that was PONG [pictured right], then (for today only) I hate you :o)

But more important than the digital watch and the video game,1972 also saw the introduction of the first scientific hand-held calculator, a development that truly astounded people at the time. Hewlett Packard dubbed the HP-35 ‘The First Slide Rule Pocket Calculator’ (I know, I know…you’ll have to Google ‘slide rule’ to find out what I’m talking about *sigh*), and with it brought the functions of scientific mathematics to the world. Prior to this, most calculators only had four functions: +, -, x and /. HP priced the HP-35 at a massive $395 (and this is 1972, remember) but later admitted it had no idea how much demand there would be and, despite the price, had to warn people to expect waiting lists. This was the iPad launch of the day, something completely ground-breaking that paved the way for four decades of consumer-facing innovation.

And I was there. Just. I wrote recently about Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns (we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century; it will be more like 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate”) and the exponential rate of change of tech. And looking back at 1972, doesn’t this make you wonder where on earth we’ll be in another 40 years?

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