Orders of magnitude

Never in human history have we seen another time when a technology increased it's price-performance by six or eight orders of magnitude within a lifetime. For that technology to be a technology of the intellect is doubly marvelous. Forget the Gutenberg press. Forget parchment. Forget the invention of language. Nothing, but nothing, has ever ever changed within one lifetime how we think and experience the way that digital technology has. Ever. This is a first. And you are alive to see it.

Of more than ten thousand generations of human history, you are here now in this briefest blink in the life of the species, in these two or three generations experiencing it. And of the seven billion alive now, you are born into a family and country that allows you to share in it (else you wouldn't be reading this).

When I was born (1959) only some households in New Zealand had a telephone, almost none had a television (and one fifth didn't have a flush toilet). People communicated with remote places by telegram, telex or letter. The telegram was delivered to your door by the postman. People read one newspaper, maybe one regular magazine, and a few books. The home radio connected them to daily world news and views. To WATCH news they went to the movies on a Saturday. Thanks to the transformational technology of vinyl records they were freed from the pianola and wax recording and had a growing choice of popular music. Before I was born, for someone to come from Europe to New Zealand to live meant - except for the rich - never ever seeing your family again (except the occasional photo), perhaps once, and probably never hearing their voices again either.

The first discrete transistor in New Zealand cost forty pounds and was imported from Japan about the time I was born. This PC I'm using has more transitors in it than existed on the whole planet when I was born.

In 1978 I wrote a research paper and I needed a paper that had been published in Sweden. It took two weeks to learn it existed and six more weeks to get a copy. I found it again on Google in thirty seconds. I can learn as much in two or three days on Google as I did in that summer of paper-writing.

I live in a tiny village in one of the world's smaller countries about as remote as it is possible to be. Thousands of people from dozens of countries read my blog. More than a thousand get my newsletter. Another thousand follow my twitters. Around the world there are hundreds of thousands (millions?) like me.

I happen to live in a generation where I can visit 29 countries (so far) and I can connect with even more than that every day. When I step back and ponder all this, it makes me awestruck. Truly staggered. For a moment, please forget all the downsides and realise how utterly magically lucky you are to be here to see this.