Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My decade in America

Sometime back an uncle of mine, living in India, casually remarked "we in India have seen lot of changes unlike USA". For some time I did not think much of it. Amidst all the recent blogging on e-books, year end lists by all and sundry a thought struck me. So much has indeed changed in America. In fact many changes that have ricocheted around the world have originated in America or driven by America.

I landed in America on June 24th 1998 in JFK. Given my anxieties my mind did not even register that I was being driven across the Verrazano Narrows bridge, an architectural marvel. The dot com boom was in full swing. I landed in an America that was at the apogee of world domination. I shall not bore the reader recapping well known events over the past decade or a litany of the ebb and flow of personal fortunes.

The first time I bought a PC in my life was after marriage in 1999. It had 5 GB hard disk, 256 MB RAM. Today my iMac has 1 Terabyte hard disk, 8 GB RAM. My Ipod has 160GB. Not long ago if a database at a corporation was 1 TB it was called a big database.

I bought cassette tapes, VHS recordings. Then it was MP3 rage thanks to Napster. I bought my first DVD player in 2000. At that time Blockbuster, a leading video rental chain store, had just two racks of DVD's. Today VHS tapes are gone, even the DVD is just hanging in for Blu-Ray to become common place. 'Blockbuster' as a company is fighting for its survival from mail-order service like Netflix. Netflix on the other hand is trying to stay ahead of the curve with streaming videos.

Does anybody now remember AOL "You have got mail", the sound of dial-up connections etc? In the dot com there were many ad driven services that were free. One popular free dial-up connection was "Net-Zero". Needless to say they are no longer running. Today I've fiber optic cable run up to my home and I speeds of MB's.

Owning a camera was a luxury in India. I bought my first camera, an Olympus with telephoto zoom, for $200 (I think) from a website that gave ridiculous discounts (also no longer running). I bought that for my marriage trip. Today there are no film cameras being produced. My first digital camera, bought in 2002, had 1.2 mega pixel. My current Canon digital SLR has 14 Mega pixel (a sony model has 25 MP). Even the memory card has undergone change just within 3 years. Where there was a plethora of types now the industry is converging on SD cards.

My first camcorder, also bought for the marriage, was analog with a nice Samsonite bag (all for $450) from 'Circuit City', a premier Electronic chain store (closed in 2008). Camcorders used to be a rage for every foreign return those days. There too the tape is gone. Now its mostly internal hard disk and flash drives.

TV was a luxury when I grew up and mostly a strict 'no-no' until we crossed 10th grade lest we get distracted. Distracted, what a grandiose notion given that those days DD ran insipid programs that would make a student run back to his books. Does anyone remember "Vayalum Vaazhvum" and the scramble for Friday evening "Oliyum Oliyum"? I bought my first TV, an RCA 27 inch model (CRT based technology) from K-Mart (now no longer). Boy I've lugged that bulk until 2004. In 2004 I bought my 55 inch Sony LCD projection TV. Now CRT based TV's are no longer manufactured.

When I first started driving in my second hand 1993 model (bought in 1999) Toyota Tercel DX (no longer produced) I was bewildered learning to look up maps. Even back then websites had sprouted to give directions but what if you had to take a detour? Today GPS's are de-rigeur. The iconic Rand McNally atlases are relics of a bygone era.

For more than a year even after getting a job I did not have a cell phone until 2000. Today cell phones are not just for talking and are mostly used for tasks other than talking. Need I even talk about the revolution in the cell phone industry.

In 1998 to call India from our land line was so damn expensive. Sometimes at the rate of $0.75 it was sheer day light robbery. Flush with excitement when my engagement was arranged I burned the phone line costing $500 for that month (a cousin spent $1000 thanks to speed dialing feature). Now I've a flat fee of $25 for a month to call India any number of times. Now add "Skype" to the mix and you have a global phenomenon. Recently Cisco has introduced tele-meetings at consumer levels so families can stay connected. Only a tech hater will give the trope "oh we dont relate anymore like we used, technology has killed relationship". On the contrary technology has made it so easy and cheap to be in touch.

Ah then there is Ipod and the Steve Jobs revolution that has remade an industry. When he unveiled the latest Itunes software Jobs said that Apple with drop the CD image in the Itunes logo, the logo now has just a musical note. Jobs reasoned that a CD is anachronistic. In 10 years the cassette tape and the CD are gone. Sony has stopped manufacturing its iconic walkman. Thanks to the Ipod and what marketing gurus call the "halo effect" today an iMac graces my desk. What used to be "Apple Computers" is now just "Apple Inc". Jobs contended that Apple is no longer just a computer company. Apple recently surpassed Microsoft in market capitalization.

Steve Jobs with his Ipod, Ipad and Iphone has practically shaken up our lives. When "Circuit City" folded up many thought "Best Buy" the only other major electronic retailer will fleece customers. Not to be. The web savvy consumer armed with an Iphone or an Android phone has protection. The customer scans the barcode of an item he wants to buy and the app tells him the price from various internet stores.

Its snowing outside tonight, we expect 3 inches. Driving will not be a problem with my 4-wheel drive car. Brakes? Hah my ABS will handle that. I got to add that curtain air bags, dual side air bags all have me covered. Many of that is now becoming standard issue.

Oh I forgot Google. Between Steve Jobs and Google the American consumer is forever changed. Also increasingly its becoming difficult to categorize the companies. Google no longer is just a "search engine" company. The Android phone changed that.

E-books are now redefining the publishing industry. Last year Amazon.com sold more e-books than hardcovers. Ipad is revolutionizing how books are designed for reading, especially children.

Blogging, Facebook ( I just watched "The Social Network"), twitter etc have completely changed how we socialize.

I can add sundry items and details of personal changes but I shall stop here for now. Often times when I read historians rushing to write the epitaph on America as an innovation super power I just ponder on Google, Apple and now Facebook. As I was watching "The Social Network" one thought struck. Here is a twenty something student who has an idea, turns it to a company and is the youngest billionaire. Only in America. Note that well-heeled very wealthy rival students dragged him to court accusing him of stealing their idea. In most other countries the penniless student would have lost.

1 comment:

Praveen Prabakar said...

Excellent and a beautiful article. Things that are taken for granted are truly luxurious and were not affordable even 4 years ago. The most important aspect of the tech changes are it is seamlessly blending with every common man/woman and we are making huge leap every year.