Creative Disruption: The Changing Landscape of Technology

Source: Flickr/donjd2


When I was attempting to show how technology innovation accelerated during the 20th century, I used to mention that my mother was born before the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane and died after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. This normally got my listeners' attention - it was a remarkably swift path, particularly when one considers how long it took to get to the Wright Brothers.

I write that "I used to" mention this because at some point my wife, Barbara, said that she thought it was even more remarkable that we were both born before the birth of the industry in which we have spent our entire professional lives. On Valentine’s Day, 1946, the Department of the Army and the University of Pennsylvania Moore School of Engineering announced the completion of Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), launching the age of the computer.

Since that date, we have gone from a 27-ton, 1,800 square-foot computer to much-more powerful computers you can hold in the palm of your hand. Not only have computers progressed this way, the technology has migrated to every possible type of device, changing transportation, military weaponry, photography, education, communications, business, law enforcement, medicine and just about everything else you can think of.

In Steve Jobs’ great graduation speech at Stanford University in 2005, he spent a good amount of time speaking about "connecting the dots." In Jobs' words, "you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards."

In this series, my intent is to connect the dots in the life of the technology around us so we can look at where we came from and what the ramifications of the trip have been. I will also look at the elements that underlie the technology that is now part of our lives and speculate as to where that technology may take us.

The impact of the technology explosion is obvious in some areas, such as the constant geometric increase in the power of computers as described by "Moore's Law." In other areas, such as photography, journalism and medicine, it may not be as apparent until we step back and realize that the world has "gone digital" and that this transition, in some way, impacts everything. As we step back, perhaps, we will be in awe as we note how far we have come. I hope so - and welcome aboard for the ride!

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Written by John F. McMullen
John F. McMullen lives with his wife, Barbara, in Jefferson Valley, New York, in a converted barn full of pets (dog, cats, and turtles) and books. He has been involved in technology for more than 40 years and has written more than 1,500 articles, columns and reviews about it for major publications. He is a professor at Purchase College and has previously taught at Monroe College, Marist College and the New School for Social Research. He is also a member of the American Academy of Poets, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Freelancer's Union, the Association for Computing Machinery, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science and the World Futurist Society.

His current non-technical writing includes a novel, "The Inwood Book" and "New & Collected Poems by johnmac the bard." Both are available on