Of Technology and Gilligan’s Island

Some of you will remember Gilligan’s Island. Stranded on a remote island for three years, the Professor figured out how to communicate with an orbiting Apollo spacecraft, how to build a two-way radio out of coconut shells and seawater, and how to establish an irrigation system using bamboo poles. Yet he wasn’t able to patch a hole on the side of the boat that brought them there.

Technology is a wonderful thing, and trying to predict where it’s going seems to be an exercise in futility. Here’s one my brother Vince sent me: In March, 1949, Popular Mechanics wrote on computer miniaturization: “Computers in the future may have only 1000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh only 1 ½ tons.”

They were only a ton and a half off. Which makes me feel somewhat better about my own predictions. Back in the early 90s, I was asked to take part of an experiment for the “Nova Scotia Technology Network”, which was in fact the Internet. There were around twelve of us. We had email, but no web. Instead of IE or Chrome, we had a thing called “Gopher”, which linked different sites together, mostly universities.

After a couple of weeks of emailing 11 other people and getting no response, and of visiting the University of Georgia more times than I needed, I put in my report: “This Internet technology is going nowhere.”

I may have been a tad off.

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