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Back to the past: Imagining innovation during the era of mixed tapes


Nostalgic posts, so popular on social media, have never quite appealed to me, perhaps because I have worked in tech for many years now. I often find myself amused at imagining exactly the opposite of those sentimental posts: What was I missing during the earlier stages of my life, when today’s technology was not available?

I figured that the turn of the year would be the right time to compile a half-serious “back to the past” list. Cue up your favorite monster ballads and journey with me along the path of what could have been.

Channeling cognitive bias

Back in the early eighties, one single TV channel broadcast cartoons for a meager couple of hours per day. I sometimes suspect that social scientists have underestimated the after-effects for a generation of primary school-age children being brainwashed, day after day, by the same few tragic stories: Poor orphans raised by sadistic relatives (for girls), or of robots firing entire arsenals at each other (for boys).

Today, I smile when I see my son enjoying an infinite variety of digital TV channels for children, tailored to the needs of specific age groups and available in different languages. Ah, the good old days of subconsciously eliminating career paths based on gender. Not missing them.

Smells like teen spirit

Music was a big life topic during the melodramatic teen years. Sadly, the choice was between either frustratingly waiting for hours to hear your favorite song on a bad analog radio to record it on a tape with awful quality, or to break your piggy bank and buy a CD that forced you to listen to a whole, half-good album, just to be able to hear the two mega-hits you were interested in.

So please be kind to your teenagers spending their lives with their headphones in. Had you had, at the time, the immense digital music offering available today, you would have skipped your homework all the same, and had a much more diverse soundtrack to complement your fantasies of how much better your life would be once you were finally an adult and not under the command of your exasperating parents.

Siri, google “wasted time” for me

Honestly, I keep wondering how one could possibly graduate without the internet as it is today. Search engines began appearing at the end of my college years, but the content was just not there. I still have nightmarish visions of students illegally photocopying rare books or waiting in line for hours to use the only publicly available computer.

Finding information was a treasure hunt, and cost plenty of money in books, magazine subscriptions, library cards, and, again, photocopies. I developed such a bad aversion to paper that years later, only days after the first e-book reader was released, I got it shipped from the US to Europe for an unreasonably high price. Imagine having infinite knowledge literally at your fingertips, versus stored somewhere in the stacks of libraries, usually never available when needed.

People I may know, but want to avoid

In my 20s, I went working abroad for a couple of years, with no connections at my destination. I wish I could have used the broad array of social networks and apps available today, like apps dedicated to isolated expats looking for friends, or a quick Facebook search to determine that, no, I shouldn’t dedicate time getting to know certain people.

Instead, I had to spend months building relationships the old-fashioned, live-and-learn way, but unfortunately (no longer student life, remember?), it was time to come home just as I began to know and connect with people. #foreveralone

After that, digital technology truly became mainstream in our daily routines. From my personal perspective, that has been an incredibly beneficial evolution. That’s why today, again, I am looking at the new year with excitement, hoping to add my own little contributions to building innovations that will improve our lives even further. Happy 2018!

Where is the future headed? Find the answers here!

Erica Vialardi
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Erica Vialardi

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