“10 Things My Kids Think Are From the Olden Days” – Early thoughts on the era of instant obsolescence

Category under: Articles, Blog, Faster

“Daddy, is that from the olden days?” That’s a question I would often get from my sons when they were small — around 3 or 5 or 7 years old. (They’re 16 and 18 now…)

“Is that a thing from the olden days, daddy?”

Way back in 2003 or so, I wrote an article around their unique view on the world.

I called it “10 Things from the Olden Days.”

Today, August 2011, I’m getting a lot of media calls around the theme of innovation and the pace of change in the world; I think it is all part of the story angle having to do with Steve Job’s retirement, and the blistering pace of innovation that has existed at Apple.

I mentioned this article in one talk moments ago with a reporter, and realized that it might be a good thing to repost the article in full.

So in that spirit, I’ll repost the article.

10 Things My Kids Think Are From the Olden Days
by Jim Carroll, October 2003
One of the most important roles for any executive today is ensuring that the organization is strategically positioned to deal with relentless, ongoing change.

Everyone is faced with rapidly evolving business models, new and unique customer demands, heightened competition, rapid product development and even faster product obsolescence, and increasing career specialization, not to mention dramatic rates of knowledge growth. It is important to be cognizant of the potential impact of all of these trends, in order to clearly assess how an organization should be responding to change.

It is important that you don’t become complacent about the rate of change that envelopes us today. That’s why it can be very useful to have a barometer that helps to measure the rate of change.

In my case, I track what my two boys – aged 8 and 10 – happen to think about the world around them. Their world is a very different one, in that there are a number of things that we take for granted that already to them, are “things from the olden days.”

  • 35mm film.

The other day, I headed out to a local photofinishing store with a Compact Flash digital camera card in my hand, in order to get a variety of digtal picures printed. “Where are you going with the film, daddy?” asked one. Think

….they’ve grown up in a world of pixels, not acetate.

Which made me wonder, did they know what “real film” looked like? Not at all – since I’ve been doing digital photography since 1996, they’ve grown up in a world of pixels, not acetate.

One day, I grabbed some negatives from an old set of photographs, and showed it to them. They were fascinated, but wondered how you got that thing into a computer in order to see the picture.

  • CD’s.

In my home, there are 12,000 (legally acquired) songs on various servers in the basement. Music is pulled through the home network and played through a “digital audio receiver,” a computer-like entertainment device that will be common in homes five years out.

That’s why my son commented to his buddy a few years ago, when he was visiting, that he had “some of those things from the olden days,” referring, of course, to CD’s. Since I converted all of my music back in 1997 to digital format, the CD’s have sat in various boxes, packed away, simply a form of backup.

A few months back, I showed them some of my old LP records. That really freaked them out.

  • Airplane tickets.

I’m serious! We travel a lot, and we’ve been using e-tickets for as long as they can remember having memories.

I had a recent trip that involved an honest to goodness paper ticket, and they thought the red and green carbon paper was really neat. They wondered if they could do some type of art project with it, while I had to patiently explain that it was worth a lot of money, and that we shouldn’t fool with it.

  • TV Guides.

Saturday mornings in our home are “cartoon mornings.” It is the only day of the week that my wife Christa and I will let them “veg-out” for a few hours and watch their favorite shows.

I came down one Saturday morning, only to find both sons with very sad expressions.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “There’s no data, daddy” said one. “No what?” I asked? He pressed the button for the “electronic program guide” on the TV – we have digital cable – and all the boxes showed the description, “no data.” I guess there must have been some type of hiccup in the system.

I went to the front door, grabbed the newspaper, took out the tv listing section, and said, “here, I’ll show you how we did it in the olden days.”

They weren’t impressed.
  • Analog clocks.

Call these kids digital or what! We were fortunate enough to be out of town when the Great Northeast Power Failure of 2003 occurred, vacationing in Phoenix. But both boys were very curious as to what the power outage would mean and curious about its effects.

“How do people go to sleep?” one asked. That was a new one – we weren’t quite sure what they meant. Until we realized that both of them have grown up with a digital clock beside their bed — if they wake up at night, they check the time, and know it is time to go back to sleep.

We’ve learned that they can’t even sleep without one.

  • TV’s with knobs.

One day, I mentioned that we didn’t have such devices in the “olden days.” “How did people change the channel?” they innocently asked.

I realized that they had no concept that back then – what, twenty years ago at most? – that most people actually had to get up off the couch to change the channel.

The thought seemed completely foreign to them!

  • Store clerks who punch in prices.

When my boys were 2 and 4, they use to play grocery store checkout. One would hand over the purchases, while the other would run the scanner and go “beep.”

They’ve grown up in a world of bar codes, and it is a rarity when they see someone using an actual cash register where you type in the numbers.

  • Portable vacuum cleaners.

“What’s that?” the eldest asked the day we were moving into our ski cottage, pointing at our old portable vacuum cleaner. We’ve had a built-in vacuum system for almost a decade, and so he was mystified as to the nature of the device in front of him.

They watched in awe as we used it the first time, particularly as we pulled it around bumping into walls and doors. One observed that it was kind of a “dumb design,” in that it seemed to do more damage then good.

  • Analog thermometers.

For year, as soon as we saw the bare hint of a fever, we’d quickly measure their temperature with a fancy digital thermometer. Which is why when they saw an old-fashioned, mercury glass thermometer at their grandparents house they were fascinated.

How was it used, they wondered. Better yet, did it go beep when it was finished?

  • A sky without the Space Station.

Ever since they can remember, they’ve gone into our backyard at dusk on clear evenings, watching for the International Space Station and various satellites. They know that mommy and daddy will tell them precisely where to look, at what time, and in what direction the station or satellite will be traversing overhead.

That’s because they’ve grown up with a Web site called Heavens-Above, which will tell you the exact details, for any particular point on earth, where you can easily observe such orbiting wonders.

To them, this is a normal and expected part of life—to me, it is fascinating that a system has evolved that lets me discover such magic.

What does all of this mean?

The interesting thing is that each one of these examples, when examined in the larger sense, involves some type of sweeping industry, product or corporate change, and hence dramatic change upon the careers of hundreds of thousands of people.

In but a few years, the world has changed to a sufficient degree that my boys are growing up in a world that is dramatically different, even from that which existed five years ago.

I remain convinced that the rate of change is only going to increase, and that preparing people to cope with change is one of the most important skills we need to provide.

Ogden Nash once observed that “progress is great, but its gone on far too long.”

That might be a worthy sentiment for some, but those who think like that are ill-equipped to cope in a world of tomorrow that will continue to be unlike anything we know today


THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO ARE FAST features the best of the insight from Jim Carroll’s blog, in which he
covers issues related to creativity, innovation and future trends.