Silicon Insider: Tech Revolutions at Hand

Every technology revolution takes twice as long as we expected, and half as long as we are prepared for.

If nobody else has already said that, call it Malone's Third Law. [The First, by the way, from about 1982, is: Whenever a company builds a new corporate headquarters, short the stock. The Second, from the mid-'90s, is: Any true technology revolution has its own underlying Law.]

Everybody who has lived in the industrialized world over the last 50 years understands what the Third Law means. My first encounter with this peculiar property of modern life came in the early 1960s, with color television.

In the dozen years since the late 1940s, television had gone from an intriguing novelty to the centerpiece of most American living rooms. In the process, it had hit American society like a tsunami. By 1960, we were still reeling from the cultural implications of Davy Crockett, the Today Show, the Friday Night Fights, the Quiz Show scandals, American Bandstand, Bishop Sheen, Liberace and Ed Sullivan. And coming over the horizon were the Nixon-Kennedy debates, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Beatles.

In the early years of TV, pundits predicted that the technology would be a slowly accepted, and ultimately elevating, force in modern life. By the first episodes of I Love Lucy and Howdy Doody, that fantasy had long been abandoned. Now there was a headlong rush by everybody in America to get that Muntz or Philco box set up in the living room and an aerial on the roof and tune in to Dinah Shore.

So, what had been predicted to take a generation instead took only a decade. But what had also been predicted to be easy, the implantation of television programming into daily life, proved to unbelievably complex, difficult, transformative and enduring. In some ways we are still trying to recover from what happened to us.

Ringing in the PC Age

Now, with the new decade, there was a whole new television technology appearing down at the local appliance store: color. I remember vividly the conversations of my parents and their suburban neighbors at cocktail parties and barbecues. It was: color TV sounds interesting, and it's probably beautiful to look at — but who needs it? Not at that price. We'll stick to black and white, thank you very much.

Then, amazingly, Disneyland, that mainstay of my Boomer childhood, became The Wonderful World of Color. I remember seeing it for the first time, in that wonderful saturated color of those early TVs, at my uncle's house in Enid, Okla. I stood transfixed. More importantly, so did my old man.

Three years later, we owned a color TV. So did everybody else. The first important program we watched was, ironically, one of the most monochromatic events of the century: John F. Kennedy's funeral.

From then on, the Sixties only grew more colorful: from A Hard Day's Night to Help to Magical Mystery Tour. Without color television, would the Sixties have been the Sixties? Would the psychedelic era have existed? Would we have pulled out of Vietnam if the blood hadn't been so red?

By then, I was already living the beginnings of another revolution. I saw the same acoustic coupled computer terminal in the NASA-Ames Research Center that Steve Wozniak did. And I had the same thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to have this at home?" Luckily, Woz was a genius. Still, this was eight years before the Apple and I, almost 10 before I saw my dream incarnate — the Apple II.

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