The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.

Warning: This post is not about technology.

In 1883, while working in his lab to develop a longer lasting incandescent light bulb, Thomas Alvin Edison discovered a phenomenon called thermionic emission, a peculiar discovery that lead to the development of the vacuum tube. Vacuum tubes became the building blocks of the first electronic computers.

In the late 1940s, the vacuum tube was supplanted by the transistor, a solid state device that represented the holy grail of electronics; it was faster, smaller, cheaper, and consumed less power. Soon we began doubling the number of transistors squeezed into an integrated circuit every two years–a trend that has become known as “Moores Law.” Today, we cram hundreds of millions of transistors into the tiniest of spaces, and connect them all together with wires 45 nanometers thick.

But remember, this post isn’t about technology.

The Apple A4, the system on a chip processor that drives the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch represents how far we’ve come. Just for kicks, let’s compare the A4’s capabilities with ENIAC, the world’s first all-electronic computer built in 1946.

Components 18,000 tubes 177.6 million transistors *
Footprint 240 square feet 53 square millimeters
Clock speed 100 KHz 1 GHz
Power Consumption 174 Kilowatts* 500-800 milliwatts *
Cost $500,000 (1946) $500 (for a complete iPad)

* estimated

Today’s average teenager carries a processor that is:

  • almost 10,000 times more complex
  • 2000 times smaller
  • 10,000,000 times faster
  • consumes 200,000 times less power
  • and is over 10,000 times cheaper!

But as I said earlier, this post really isn’t about technology.

Access to cheap information processing power is affecting our every day existence. Faster, smaller and cheaper processors are being built into our desktop, notebook, and netbook computers. They’re designed into our televisions, set-top boxes, and printers. Manufacturers are putting them into the oddest of places like automobiles, home security systems, washing machines, coffee makers, refrigerators and microwave ovens. Manufacturers are connecting them to the Internet at such a rate that we are running low on unique Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. To put that into perspective, we are approaching 4.3 billion Internet connected devices.

Faster, smaller and cheaper is allowing us to create hybrid devices through combining an odd collection of disparate contraptions. For example, smart phones consist of cameras, photo viewers, video recorders, video players, GPS devices, audio recorders, audio players and Internet modems squeezed into a form factor that was once reserved to make simple wireless telephone calls. Add the fact that processors like the A4 are programmable, businesses are free to build their own custom software applications on-top of them.

I did say that this post had nothing to do with technology, right?

Faster, smaller, and cheaper has given us fingertip access to information quantities that are unprecedented in human history. Our smart phones allow us to find a restaurant within close proximity, read its reviews, make our reservations, and finally post our own reviews while we’re sipping our after-dinner coffee. As you can see, these devices are not just reserved for consuming content, they are also publishing devices, that allow us to create and distribute text, audio and video around the world for the nominal cost of Internet access–a cost that is not only dropping every year, but is being offered for free at the local coffee shop!

As promised, this post has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is about the new choices we make as a result of the technologies available to us.

  • Will I read the news on on paper or on a screen? If it’s a screen, which one?
  • Will I share this photograph with my friends?
  • Will I forgo an hour of watching television to checkout my friends’ Facebook pages?
  • Will I watch that television program live, pause it with my DVR so that I can fast-forward through the stupid commercials, or record the program for later viewing?
  • Will I let people know of my exact physical location?
  • Will I write a review for a restaurant and publish it to the world, or just share it with my network of friends?
  • Will I seek information about a product or service through an Internet search, or should I ask my network of friends for a referral?
  • Will I use the vendor’s official customer support number, or post a question to a more public channel like a bulletin board, Twitter, or LinkedIn?

Our choices become behaviors and our behaviors become new habits. If those new habits adversely affect a business’s ability to communicate with its prospects and customers, it only has two simple choices: adapt or ignore.

The former is smart business. The latter is negligence.

I told you that this post wasn’t about technology!


Filed under: Social Media


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February 10, 2011

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