Where is all the exciting technology?

This article is about boring technology. And as an exception, I don’t mean “boring” in the sense of established and reliable technology that I recommend you use instead of chasing the latest hype. No, I mean that technology in general has become boring for the most part. In his article “Plateauing technology and boring computing“, Michael Wirth wrote something that hit home with me:

But computing was interesting in the 1980s. Home computers were becoming a thing, Mac’s were making inroads everywhere, and you could play-around with PCs, even if they likely weren’t as interesting as Mac’s. Everything had its pros and cons. Unix provided an excellent platform to learn programming, much better than Mac’s which were awful to code, and PC’s which just really weren’t that interesting language-wise (unless you liked BASIC).

It reminded me how excited I was about computers back then. I always lusted after and saved money for the next upgrade or replacement machine that would open up amazing new possibilities for me.

The same stuff over and over

Sadly, the joy about exciting technology is pretty much gone today. The new iPhone? Yeah, better lenses, but I always forget to take photos anyway. The next generation of CPUs or GPUs? Meh, I’m good, thanks. Michael claims that, in the last 20 years, almost every innovation in computer science was pretty much just a face lift of a prior invention. And, to be honest, it’s hard for me to disagree. There’s just not that much that’s come out in the last decade or so that gave me that “Wow, I love it and I have to have it” feeling.

I think that’s why I’ve been indulging in nostalgia so much lately, reading old issues of BYTE Magazine and watching Usagi Electric on YouTube. It makes me imagine what could have been if, back in the day, I had had access to technology like the Pyramid minicomputer Michael mentioned in his article.

Except for Open Source

But do we really need to have these quantum leaps to be excited about technology? Nowadays, the thing that comes closest for me to unboxing my new home computer is installing open source software. Optimizing my workflows, having even more fun doing what I already love, that’s what makes me happy every time. Not all technology is plateauing. In the open source ecosystem, developers keep making breakthroughs, continue to amaze users of their software with new ideas, and improve the lives of people all over the world. I’d say open source is exciting technology.

Did you encounter an innovation that really excited you recently? Let me know on Mastodon!

This article was originally published in my newsletter, “News From the Server Room”. To get my column “Mentor Monologue” fresh when I publish it, subscribe here.

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