Friday, April 6, 2012

Technology Is About Allowing You to Control More Capital

In growth modeling, we call this labor-augmenting technology: it allows a person to use more capital simultaneously, it is not about making it possible for a piece of capital to use more people.

The scary things about this photo is that 1) I turned 16 in 1980, 2) I never dressed like that (instead, think Spicoli), and 3) most of the technology shown didn’t exist at the consumer level until the mid 1980’s.

I’m no expert, but in the early 1980’s I was a teenager, with some money, and a lot of interest in early adoption of technology. I may not have had everything first, but if I didn’t, I knew someone who did. That, of course, does not count middle-aged men with a lot of free cash flow to spend on stuff. If they got high end stuff earlier, I didn’t see it much, and if I did, they didn’t let a dirtbag like me touch it.

So, this description is for a price point in 1980 of $100-300 … something like $300-900 in current dollars. Not for someone who might have dropped a thousand dollars at some high end store.

Starting at the top left and going clockwise:

  • Camcorders existed in 1980, but the first time I ever saw a regular person with one was outside the Louvre in 1984, and it was a lot bigger than that.
  • The phone: absolutely, positively, did not exist in 1980. AT&T was fighting tooth and nail to keep alternative phone designs illegal. You could buy novelty phones at the mall (which didn’t look as sleek as that one) but it was actually a violation of your phone contract to use one. People did anyway. A small, utilitarian, office-type phone like shown here: I didn’t see one of those until I went to London in 1983.
  • The headphones. No way. In 1980 they would have been the really big ones that cover your whole ear … and which hurt after a while because they were airtight and you couldn’t relieve any pressure changes.
  • Boomboxes were around in 1980.
  • That little Sony TV wasn’t around until well after the tape-playing Walkman came out for Christmas 1980.
  • I’m not sure about that typewriter. They may have been around in 1980, but I don’t remember that little LED display until much later.
  • Videocassettes were around (I even watched a videotape in the school library in 1975). But my dad was an early adopter of VCR’s and we didn’t get one until early 1982. We were the only ones to have one of those for quite a long time (although there was a video store so someone else must have had them).
  • That calculator might have existed, but probably with a red or green LED screen rather than the black and white one shown. I got one of those around 1985-6.
  • That VCR looks like VHS. In 1982 you could only get Beta. That does look like a single Beta tape in the background.
  • That’s a CD! So not 1980. They existed then, somewhere. The first time I saw one was in the summer of 1985 — a friend who’s parents had both died when he was a teenager and who inherited their money had splurged on one. I got one in the summer of 1986, and I was the only one who had one for months and or years.
  • That little stereo system in the background? I didn’t see one of those until 1992. There needed to be a lot of improvement in getting amplifiers to generate less heat to make that possible. In 1980 a stereo was a bunch of components that were about 20 by 10 by 4 inches … and you really weren’t supposed to stack them because they got too hot.
  • BTW: the displays on the audio and video equipment in 1980 would have been analog variations on the VU Meter. You might have found a few LED displays by 1982.
  • Audio cassette tapes were definitely around in 1980. I got my first in 1978, and I can remember them at least a year before that.
  • Those speakers? No way would someone have those in 1980. If your speakers weren’t 5-10 times the volume of those, you were a nerd.
  • The Walkman? I saw my first one in the early spring of 1981 (again, a rich kid had one). I bought my first one in Fall 1981 for my freshman year of college. It was not a Sony, it was some French knock-off that I ordered from a classified ad in the back of an electronics magazine. It was the only one around at my university, and was a great conversation starter with girls. Oh … and that Walkman they’re showing? They didn’t get that small until 1983.
  • The micro-cassette (dictation) recorder might very well have been around in 1980.
  • I’m not even sure what that thing is in the guys left breast-pocket.

Labor-augmenting technology put all of that capability in your pocket.

1 comment:

  1. Steve Karlson (an economics professor at Northern Illinois) who blogs at Cold Spring Shops pointed out that none of the stuff shown for 1980 was even possible in 1950.