His article is well-researched and tracks other milestones in the social networking world: MySpace, Facebook, all the way back to the email and bulletin boards. Here’s his chart:
I have been in the communications business since slightly before this chart started, beginning right out of high school as an apprentice typographer. I started on the NBT of that era, the Mergenthaler VIP machine… arguably the first successful photo-typography system to give hot lead typography a run for its money. No, this does not make me an old man! I’m a very young 56, and if you doubt it, I’ll meet you on the basketball court!
But the accelerating pace of change in all the media and methods of communication throughout my career illustrates why no one should ever think we’ve reached a plateau where we can rest and enjoy the view.
When I started, marketing meant sales, and sales meant “Push”. Shout. Ads. And the media were massive print — either mass-market ads or direct mail — and broadcast. I started on the print side, and the technology for most printed matter on the eve of when I started was the Mergenthaler Linotype machine, which had been the state of the art for about 75 years. (By the way, it was the Mergenthaler Linotype in 1886 that sent Mark Twain into bankruptcy when he sunk a fortune into the Paige typesetting machine). I joined the industry as part of a new wave of young people doing photo-typesetting on primitive computerized electro-mechanical machines. I learned on the Mergenthaler VIP,
a bonafide Next Big Thing in the advertising and design world, which opened amazing doors of versatility in the form of the written word. It required whole new approaches to every step of the design and printing process.
No one in the communications business had heard of an internet in the 70s. But we had plenty of new ideas to adapt to and utilize in our work flow. Yes, we were talking at people. (more on that in another post). Yes, the technology of media communications was still firmly in the hands of those who could afford to use it: ad agencies, publishers, producers. But the trend of pleasing audiences, worrying about audience reactions, rapid-fire change and constant personal re-invention goes back at least that far. I’d say it probably goes back to the 50s in some respects, but a major technology revolution accelerated the pace of change in the 60s and 70s. Here’s my quick list of the Next Big Things that I personally worked with, learned how to use, and then abandoned when something better came along:
- 1972 – Phototypesetting via paper tape
- 1973 – Citizens Band radio starts catching on after the oil crisis – By 1982 it has “chat” channels, its own language, etc. (no, I wasn’t a CBer)
- 1975 – Phototypesetting via OCR
- 1978 – 1980: Apple II; Visicalc; Wordperfect
- 1980 – First telecopier I remember seeing – (Analog fax– a spinning drum, 3 to 6 minutes per page!)
- 1981 – Fedex overnight letters — accelerated turnaround times and a lot less telecopying!
- 1981 – IBM PC
- 1981 – Mavica – first digital camera. It’s seen as a NBT, but early results are not practical
- 1982 – Hayes 300-baud modem
- 1982 – CD introduced; audio begins to migrate toward Digital realm
- 1983 – Microsoft Word
- 1983 – My client Digital was using TCP/IP communication for its internal email; it was 6 more years before Lotus brought Notes to PC users generally — the first real email within average businesses
- 1983 – Deregulation unleashes a flood of fiber optic bandwidth for telephone data transmission
- 1984 – Macintosh, and mouse, proportional fonts on a computer; Quark; Photoshop; desktop publishing revolution begins. I sell my printing business to focus on design and audio-visual production
- 1985 – First cell phones start showing up … in cars only (size of a shoebox)
- 1985 – First CCD professional video cameras make professional video cameras affordable and versatile
- 1985 – Spent $2500 on first truly efficient fax
- 1986 – Began using in-house dedicated computers to create vector-based digital slides, and send via TCP/IP to imaging centers digitally
- 1986 – Kodak introduces first megapixel digital sensor camera — astronomically expensive and only high-production studios can afford
- 1986 – First digital video medium introduced – D-1. Not initially trusted for high-end masters. Analog 1-inch lasted another decade
- 1986 – Digital music production became a reality for music composition
- 1988 – Purchased our own high resolution imaging camera for making slides digitally inhouse
- 1988 – Purchased our own analog video editing system (electromechanical)
- 1989 – First able to create slides entirely digitally
- 1989 – Corel Draw adds another way to make slides on inexpensive workstations
- 1989 – Microsoft introduces Power Point
- 1990 – Non-linear (all-digital) video editing of low-res reference version becomes available (Avid and EMC2) Finishing still has to be done via analog electro-mechanical systems in expensive editing suites using D-2 mastering units
- 1991 – First known case of Death by Powerpoint (just kidding)
- 1992 – Digital projection supplants slides in business presentations
- 1990 – First all-digital compositing system, the Video Toaster, becomes available. I didn’t buy one.
- 1993 – Mosaic provides first visual user interface for tapping the information of the internet (access to libraries, databases, etc)
- 1994 – Mosaic’s inventor launches Netscape. That’s when the internet reached my company and daily work life
- 1994 – Caller ID finally puts phone spammers at a disadvantage
- 1995 – Yahoo and Altavista emerge to help us search
- 1995 – Amazon.com launches. Soon it allows readers to post negative reviews on books it sells … the shot heard round the world
- 1996 – Palm and the idea of PDAs emerges
- 1997 – Betacam camera package and Ikegami or Sony cameras become the standard
- 1998 – Google starts a competing service which quickly becomes the verb for search
- 2000 – FlashForward comes to New York, and my staff and I spend a week learning about this new platform that’s going to “transform the internet”
- 2001 – Blackberry launches in U.S., allowing PDAs access to email
- 2002 – Digital cameras begin to make sense for professional communication and quality-conscious amateurs
- 2002 – Digital video (DV) supplants Betacam
- 2002 – DVD becomes the fastest growing consumer appliance in history
- 2003 – National Do Not Call list established, rockets to 62 million signees in 1 year
- 2003 – Direct-to-plate printing begins to migrate to small print shops, opening doors for custom One-Off brochures
- 2004 – Final Cut Pro becomes the dominant video editing standard, with 50% market share, and makes complete desktop digital video production possible.
For the last five years, the real action has been in hardware and software that enlarges the audience and its feeling of virtual community, as Jason documents in his article. Inventions from the iPod and iPhone to the xBox and PlayStation to the Pre and beyond become ubiquitous and inexpensive, and the Millennial generation adopts them … and then defines how all mediated digital communication must be prepared and delivered.
More and more, the tools of communication have become intuitive. Special languages, such as those required by everything from CB Radio to IM to Texting to Twitter are getting simpler. Spamming, whether via Direct Mail, Fax, Phone, IM, Email or Twitter hashtags has plagued each platform and eventually simmered down. But with every platform, the word “communication” has skewed in its meaning toward listening rather than speaking: and the power of the audience to penalize the obtuse and intrusive speaker has steadily grown.
For me what is most exciting has been the lowered threshold for response, and in spite of media overload and daily hecticity, an increase in actual participation in dialog. Yes, platforms come, get hot, and then get abandoned or at least back-burnered. Of course each becomes obsolete as soon as something more efficient at transmitting thoughts comes along. Will Twitter be superseded by something from Facebook or Google? Maybe. We’ll all know when it gets here, and we’ll all use it.
There’s never been a year in all the time I’ve been involved with influence that any serious communicator could slow down. Never been a Next Big Thing that wasn’t outclassed by Newer/Bigger Things. And never been a trend that wasn’t upstaged by the trend in line behind it. Since the Linotype hit the wall in 1970, the year before I began my career, everything has been “soon obsolete.”
But I’m happy to say that changing with the times keeps all of us young, and protects us from obsolescence. If we care about ideas and people, we’ll always be ready for the Next Big Thing.