Everything changes; no exceptions — and sometimes the change is revolutionary

October, 2017

I once wrote an ad with this (accurate) headline:

If the auto industry had done what the computer industry
has done in the last 30 years, a Rolls Royce
would cost $2.50 and get two million miles per gallon.

I was eight in 1951 when the first commercial computer, the Univac I, was delivered to the census bureau. Thirteen years later I spent a year working as a programmer on the Univac II at John Hancock Life Insurance. The Univac II had 24k of memory (that’s 24,000 characters) in a case the size of a small bathroom, and 16 huge drives that read five-pound metal tape reels. It was tube-based and water-cooled. It cost millions of dollars.

Today my Timex digital watch is a more powerful computer with more memory than the Univac II.

Back in 1965, they wanted me to stay in what was then called “Data Processing,” but I agreed with those who felt that computers were so big and expensive that only large financial institutions would ever have them; and I didn’t want to spend my life in the bowels of an insurance company.

So I moved into advertising, and after a stint at an ad agency had a career at a periodical publishing company that eventually had more than 100 newspapers and magazines in 70 countries all covering the computer revolution, including Computerworld, MacWorld and PC World. From there I could watch the computer revolution as it occurred.

As one futurist put it in the 70s, the history of the United States can be written in three words: Farmer, Laborer, Clerk. He argued that the U.S. started In the Agricultural Age, moved into the Manufacturing Age in the middle of the 19th century, and into the Information Age in 1951.

I don’t have to detail the amazing changes to our society that computers have brought us, and I am sure that at the time of this writing, you were well aware that self-driving cars, robots and automation are coming, probably sooner rather than later. But for me personally, the incredible changes to advertising and publishing were the biggest shock.

Every year at our sales meeting we would ask the question “Is Print Dead?” We knew that one day electronic delivery would replace the very expensive process of printing and mailing hundreds of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and we didn’t want to get caught flat-footed.

But we were. It was after I retired, but it happened quickly, and today the company I worked for, IDG, has no print publications in the United States, few abroad, and after years of stagnant growth and the death of the founder, sold itself off. It is now a very different company, still providing information but in totally different ways.

My main function at IDG was to help sell advertising, and to that end, I wrote a book to help our advertisers create more effective high-tech print advertising since 95% of all high-tech advertising at the time was in print.

The book was quite successful with our advertisers and thousands were printed and distributed. Today most of it is useless. Print is largely dead in high tech. Advertising and even much of direct mailing as we used to call it, have gone on-line. It’s a whole different world. Were I still in that business I would have to rewrite the book from scratch.

Everything changes; no exceptions; and sometimes the change is revolutionary.

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