02:06 PM
David Wagner
David Wagner
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Drones, Phones & More: What Tech Will Last A Century?

The first transcontinental phone call was made 100 years ago this week. What technology including the phone will make it another 100 years?

(Image: TRF_Mr_Hyde)

(Image: TRF_Mr_Hyde)

We're marking the 100th anniversary of the first transcontinental phone call this week. If you missed our celebration of the call itself, please check out InformationWeek's picture gallery highlighting the call and the history of the phone, one of the most fundamental business tools in the enterprise.

That got us thinking. What other technologies will survive and adapt as well as the phone has? What technologies are coming to the end of their life cycles? We’re putting some major technologies to the test of surviving another hundred years.

The phone's survival and adaptation over 100 years from simple communication device to handheld computer is a tribute to the brilliance of the invention. It also indicates humanity's innate need to communicate, even across great distances, even if we’re reducing that communication to increasingly shorter text messages.

Before we get to those other technologies, can I simply point out the irony of the text message? Bell invented the telephone so we could hear each other's real voices instead of sending short, clipped messaged via telegram. For over 75 years, we have long intimate conversations on this device. Now we take the smartphone, the most powerful communication device ever invented, and turn it into a glorified telegraph machine sending shorter messages than Western Union. Seriously?

Is usage like that threatening the life of the phone? Are other changes in society making other technology obsolete? In the 1970s would you have believed that the phonograph, a contemporary invention to the phone, would have all but disappeared? Would you have believed you'd be telling your kids what a record was?

Not all technology survives. Sometimes there is a paradigm shift that wipes an invention from common use. Take gunpowder reducing the bow and sword to things you see at the Renaissance Faire. Some have survived for centuries like the wheel or paper.

A century is a long time in the lifetime of an invention. Just think. Since Bell made that call from New York to San Francisco, his phone went from something requiring living operators to connect people to rotary and touch-tone phones, to wireless and cellular, up to our current smartphones, which are personal computers in our pockets that take pictures and everything. Some technologies adapt. Others die.

So I thought I'd go through some of the most fundamental technology, old and new, in the enterprise today and see if I think it will last another 100 years. Seeing a couple years into the future is hard enough. Trying to see to 2115 is impossible. Remember it was only a little over 60 years between the Wright Brothers and landing a man on the moon. But heck, I'll give it a shot.

Check out the slideshow to see what I think survives and what doesn't. Then comment on what you think I got right and wrong.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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