Under Control


My wife and I just returned from vacation - touring industrial sites in Korea. To give us time for jet lag recovery, our hosts took us on tours of historical sites and temples. After a while, though, it began to seem as if Shirley and I were the "exhibits," and the stuff in the glass cases was just so much stuff. Kids and others came over to practice their English, and when they learned I was 63 years old they bowed real low. I don't get that kind of respect in New York City.

The food was excellent, and the people were warm and gracious. They seem, however, to have an ambivalent attitude toward the United States of America: on the other hand, a grudging admiration; on the other, a resentment of what they see as American post-colonial colonialism. It seems they think some Americans think they know everything. In my experience, true enough.

Anyway, there I was at the top of a monster skyscraper in Seoul and someone is going on to me about how America seeks to export its democratic ideas into other historical contexts and how those ideas may not be right for those contexts. Then I look out the window at the skyline of a city of 10-million-plus people, a city that experienced depredations at the hand of both the Japanese and the North Koreans and is now a bustling, thriving maelstrom of Berlinesque activity.

I'm thinking of myself that South Korea could have done worse than imitate the example of the United States, with its largest city's architecture, its free-market capitalism, and its form of government. North Korea, which imitated Stalin's Soviet Union, is slowly starving. The United States is not wrong to propagate its ideals around the world. In fact, there are a few places in the U.S. that need to be thus propagated.

While in Korea, I gave a number of lectures regarding my views concerning the changes that will be forthcoming over the next decade and into the next century. Some of the things I talked about already have been explored in this column: the end of mass production, point-of-sale manufacturing, everything on the Internet, the end of software as an art form, and artificial life.

As expected, there were numerous nay-sayers in the audience. Students seemed eager to learn, but the old guys sat with arms folded in poses that suggested they were almost physically striving to suppress the very notion of change.

That's kind of silly thing to do considering that a selection of things invented within my lifetime could run as follows: television, penicillin, polio shots, frozen foods, copy machines, plastic, contact lenses, Frisbees, "The Pill," radar, credit cards, split atoms, laser beams, ball point pens, pantyhose, dishwashers, clothes dryers, electric blankets air conditioners, the technology to put men on the moon, FM radio, word processors, McDonalds, hydraulic brakes, and MBAs.

These Korean elders, however, would hardly be the first to fail to see the future staring them in the face. Consider the following:

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."- Western Union internal memo, 1876.

"Heavier than air flying machine are impossible." - Lord Kelvin, 1895.

"Everything that can be invented has been invented." - C.H. Duell, Commissioner, U/.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

"I think there is a world market for may be five computers."-Thomas Watson, 1943.

"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 ton." - Popular Mechanics, 1949

"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." - Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles 1962

"I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year." - Editor of Prentice Hall, 1968.

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." - Ken Olson, 1977.

"Hey, 640 K ought to be enough for anybody." - Bill Gates, 1981.

As appeared in Manufacturing Systems Magazine June 1996 Page 85

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