Typewriters V. Computers | A Lesson in Disruptive Technology

Back in the Olden Days…

When we first got our computer, I was in elementary school and my oldest sister had just started high school.  My father was over his calculator phase (I can still hear the sound the TI59 pulling the programmable magnetic strips through the calculator, relaying some formula he concocted when he did his financials late at night and I should’ve been asleep.)  He started spending his Saturdays checking out computer shows, which were basically rows and rows of tables with computer parts on them.  As an electrical engineer, this was probably Nirvana.  To me, it was a garage sale where I got to pick up free Apple stickers and pins.

Hearing him talk about it now, it must have been exciting back then, being on the cusp of arguably the biggest disruptive technology revolution.  The computer magazines chronicled it all, including some kids named Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who were going to monetize what had to have been at this point an open source exchange of parts, pieces, and wild ideas among hobbyists.  But that’s another story, and one that includes Jonathon Rotenberg, who at the age of 13 was co-founder of the Boston Computer Society and a significant contributor to the shape of the personal computing industry we have today.

We got our first Apple (Apple II) in 1979.  My dad would use the computer for his bills and would create all these spreadsheets and who knows what else.  After school, I would use all the free software that was being distributed at these computer shows to play games, learn how to “paint”, take typing tests, play with fonts, and just have fun.

My sister on the other hand, had a lot more homework than I did, and my father would point out to her that working on the computer would really help with her report writing, especially now that reports had to be typewritten.  We had a pretty good electric typewriter, and my sister’s method to report writing was to handwrite several drafts, then at 9:00 at night before the report was due, the typewriter would come out, and we’d hear… “click, pause, click, pause, click, click, click, pause, click, return”.

For months my father would encourage my sister to write her reports on the computer, but she just wouldn’t adopt the technology.  He’d explain she could create the report as she types, which I’m not sure made any sense to her since she “created the report on the typewriter as she copied her final draft”.  He’d explain that you can fix all the mistakes on the computer AND check the spelling.  She figured she had whiteout and my mother’s review, so she was covered.  Even though we had the technology for change, it was the experience of writing a report that needed to change.

Thirty (plus) years later, I’m the one excitedly witnessing a new disruptive technology revolution that will change the experience of telework.  Virtual workforce estimates are hard to come by since definitions of what actually constitutes a virtual workforce vary, but The Telework 2011| A WorldatWork Special Report indicates that while fewer employed Americans are regularly teleworking in 2010 vs. 2008, the frequency of those who do telework is on the rise.

Disruptive Technology Fuels the Virtual Workforce

Just as the electric typewriter mildly improved the experience of typing a report (or largely improved, if you weren’t particularly good at typing), I think we will look back at the tools and resources widely available today, such as document collaboration and video conferencing, and realize that these where just “electric typewriters” in disrupting the experience of change needed to effectively work in a virtual work environment.  Companies are so focused on building better electric typewriters, they are missing the real catalyst to this new workforce revolution, an improved virtual work experience.

I think it’s probably the way people couldn’t relate to the experience of using computers…those big refrigerator-sized clunkers that filled up government buildings.  After all, since typewriters had gone electric and calculators could program, how much more could a computer improve my life?  Today, people think  “I have Skype for phone, LinkedIn for online professional networking, and Webex for meetings, what more could I need?”

But, there are a few, like my father, who can imagine a changed experience, who can take that leap and embrace an unknown experience knowing that it will lead to something better, those who know that a computer is not expensive whiteout.

These are the early adopters of disruptive technology.

P.S. My oldest sister turned out pretty well technology-wise. She’s my “go-to” on-line editor and she brought me (kicking and screaming) into Facebook, which I’m certain she regretted once I started sending her gifts of cows and pigs from my first FB game addiction.

Lisa Duncan is CEO of Duncan+Coleverria, Inc. and Co-Creator of Flipside Workspace™.  Lisa and her alter ego can be found in Duncan+Coleverria’s Flipside Office M-F 9-4:30 PST, located on the lobby level of Flipside’s office building.  She encourages businesses to stop by, say hello, and see how Flipside Workspace can help you embrace your alternative workstyle.


About Lisa Duncan | Alternative Workstyle Enthusiast

Completely and totally passionate about work flexibility, love helping other businesses succeed, aiming to change how we think about workplace. Co-Creator of the digital workplace, www.flipsideworkspace.com., Co-Founder of www.duncancoleverria.com, #huffbost blogger. [Duncan Coleverria]
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