How wonderfully ironic that this is my 90th post – and I’ve got the 1990s on my mind!
Ahh, the 90s. The first full decade for me as an adult. In 1990 I was a year out of college and by the turn of the century I was a year into a company and job experience that would be probably the most transforming of my career to date.
Back in the 90s my life was far less complex and busy. I wasn’t tied to a cell phone or a laptop, and email was juuuuuust starting to creep into the mainstream world in the latter half of that decade. I used to read hardcover books with vigor and held a newspaper in my hands on Sunday mornings, lingering over coffee. I remember building up my non-academic book collection…perhaps I was slowly shedding the college textbooks from the late 80s that were starting to date themselves (and remind me of reading overload in those years) and replace them with other reading material – reading for pleasure, not grades. I remember going to a used book sale with my post-college roommate and stocking up on books for summer reading, because the TV shows in the summer were all reruns. She and I would sit in the living room and just read read read. Back then the most complex technologies I touched were things like the fax machine at work, the VCR at home (taping a couple of soap operas and watching them while unwinding at home after work was de riguere) and the phone answering machine. Come to think of it, I didn’t get a CD player until probably 1998ish – a little late to the game.
Nowadays a fax machine does nothing but frustrate the shit out of me whenever I have to use one (rare, thankfully), my VCR lies dormant and needs to get offloaded somewhere and my phone answering machine is built into my cordless phone handset. Yes, I do still have a landline. And nowadays, if I had to make a choice, I’d rather lose my wallet than my (cell) phone. I have had my wallet stolen once, however, and it was a royal pain in the ass – but back in those days – yes, the mid 1990s – I didn’t have a cell phone.
Wasn’t the fax machine supposed to shorten our workday waybackwhen? I remember hearing or reading that somewhere and I can’t think about that theory without laughing. Didn’t it and other technology just make our lives busier? How much time do I spend online nowadays whether at work or here at home? And if internet connectivity is down we might as well fold up the tent and go home. Seriously…it’s like not having water or electricity. When did we get so dependent on being so uber connected all the time?
So today is one of those downtime Saturdays. I’m making a mental list of what I need to get done this weekend while remembering the past, busy workweek – topped off with hockey practice last night. I get out of bed today and sore hamstrings remind me of all those drills we did and the short scrimmage we crammed in at the end. God it felt good to skate last night. It can be hard sometimes to get a 2nd or 3rd wind and get my butt out the door when all I want to do is plop on the couch and unwind. But I never, EVER regret the late night games and kooky lifestyle of hockey that is now tightly woven into my being. There’s something special about arriving at a rink, gearbag and sticks in hand…especially this particular rink where our team will now be practicing on Friday nights. This is the rink where it all started for me 7 years ago when I signed up for a weekly adult beginner hockey camp. I won’t ever forget the nervous flutter in my stomach when I arrived for our first lesson with a bag of brand spanking new gear I barely knew how to put on. Now, suiting up is kinetic memory. Even the funky smell of the rink is oddly comforting…like slipping on an old, broken-in shoe. But maybe that’s just me being weird.
And today I ventured into my self-proclaimed Room of Crap. In this spare bedroom (which will someday be a true guestroom) stands my good ol’ IKEA bookcase full of those books I mentioned earlier. IKEA screams 1990s to me – my first attempt at “real” furniture. Have I read all of these books? Nope. Right now a trunk for storing summer clothes, a few extra wine glasses and the bottom half of my faux Christmas tree lie in front of the bookcase on the carpet. I told you this was a room of Crap.
For some reason I reached for the book Clicking, by Faith Popcorn, and pulled it off the shelf. Blew the dust off and turned to the copyright page. 1996. Faith Popcorn is known as the Nostradamus of marketing – a futurist, finger on the pulse of what’s happening next. And “clicking,” in her lexicon, means finding one’s niche in work, lifestyle or relationships. [In her earlier book, The Popcorn Report, she boldly describes upcoming concepts now ubiquitous to us, like email and e-commerce, calling them “screenmail” and “infobuying” though neither had yet been invented.] Remember, in the early 1990s no one used the word “internet.” We were still a few years before anyone was even talking about “the Information Super-Highway.” Sounds all a bit quaint now, doesn’t it? No one uses that term anymore.
“Clicking” to me means the click of a mouse. How many ‘clicks’ do you do in a typical workday? In a day at home doing email, paying your bills online or maybe some early holiday shopping? What power we hold under our fingertips.
I remember another one of Faith Popcorn’s terms – “mass customization.” She could not be more spot-on with predicting this trend either about 15 years ago. What did I do when I bought a new laptop online from Dell? I chose the setup that *I* wanted. When I purchased my new cell phone a couple months ago what was the first thing I did? I configured it to how *I* wanted it to look – my home screen display and layout, my phone contacts, my favorite websites and the applications I want to use. Thousands of people have my same make and model of phone, but none of us will have it set up exactly the same way. Same with my laptop. Even in a prior work assignment, the configuration/customization of the technology we implemented for our clients was probably one of the most time-consuming and essential project workstreams. How about your Facebook or Twitter pages? Guaranteed they don’t look anything like any of your friends’ pages. Your iPod or Zune playlists? Yours and only yours.
This might be whatever ho-hum stuff to some, but stop and think back to what you were doing 15 or so years ago. How did you find information? How did you shop? Hell, how did you meet people? How did you communicate?
I wonder what the upcoming decade holds in store for us. Whatever it is, I can’t wait.