What’s in the bag in a World Gone Digital?

This week I’ve been musing over the last 20 years of a World Gone Digital, and then got tempted to go back 15 years further. We’re living in an amazing time for technological change — the most disruptive for IT ever! Some Twitter conversations this week started me thinking about the way things have progressed during my time in the industry, the rate of change, and it’s just getting faster. So this post goes from personal computing and the price of disk storage at the start of the 80s, to the huge array of technology I carry over my shoulder in my rucksack every day as a 21st Century digital nomad heading for a sensible workplace (with good coffee, WiFi or a decent 4G signal and a power outlet!).

IBM 5100 from the 70s


This last week I was having some techno banter with theCompareTheCloud team. Neil Cattermull tweeted me a photo of an IBM 5100. The fact that I recognised it immediately rather says something, but it led to some back and forth around the early days of personal computing. Daniel Taylor waxed lyrical about the ZX Spectrum.  Bill Mew said he was TRS80 man. Neil chimed back in with the Commodore 64, and a rather amazing use of some early Macs(see below). I dabbled a bit with my brother’s BBC Micro but wasn’t so keen on all this Basic programming as I was already doing more powerful stuff at work. It wasn’t until the mid 80s that I decided I needed the style of tech I was using at work back in my office at home, ordered and then cancelled an Amstrad PC1512 for home use, and then bought an (outrageously expensive)IBM PC/XT (with a Proprinter) in 1986 with my 30% IBM staff discount.  Matt Lovell joined in the conversation and reminded of us of modest tape drives and Hayes modems (where’s that sound again?).

Creative uses for the Mac


All of this nostalgia about retro technology is great fun, but it puts in to stark contrast how far we’ve come and where we are heading. In the world of the digital workplace you bring your own devices to turn on, tune in and communicate out. Actually, I carry it all around in a modestly sized black Samsonite GUARDIT rucksack for 13–14 inch laptops, capacity 18 litres. In the bag I have:
  • Samsung series 5 ultrabook — 13.3 inch, touch screen, Intel i5 1.7 GHz processor, 6GB Ram, 16GB of SSD, 500GB HDD
  • iPad Air — 128GB, WiFi and 4G (on O2)
  • iPhone 6–16GB (although it’s usually in my pocket rather than the rucksack) (on Vodafone)
  • Kindle Paperwhite — 2GB, WiFi
  • Lumix G3 micro 4/3 camera with 14–42 plus 45–200 lenses and 8GB Eye-Fi (wifi) card
  • Olympus DS-30 Digital Voice Recorder — 256MB
  • Vodafone R215 4g Mobile WiFi (supports up to 10 devices, up to 150 Mbps download) (on Vodafone)
  • iPod Touch (3rd gen, 64GB)
  • Beats by Dre Tour headphones
  • ReCharge2500 2500mAh battery pack and 2 short charge cables
  • Dexim Bluepack S3 battery and cables
  • Spare battery for the Lumix G3
  • Samsung charger for the Ultrabook
  • Samsung VGA adapter to connect for presentations
  • Microsoft Bluetooth Mouse
  • Portapower Crystal 4 x USB Charger
  • A few memory sticks
  • A USB memory card adapter
  • 5 long USB cables for the list above (for 4 different connector types — 2 x lightening, 1 x 30pin, standard micro-b usb, the other micro-a usb for my camera— d’oh!)
  • Plug adaptor 2 socket (handy for the Cafe so you can share power with the person who got to the socket first)

Believe it or not that collection really doesn’t weigh much, and with a pen, pencil and business cards it covers everything I need for the new world of work. When I’m travelling overseas or overnight, 2 things might get added — a Jambox for music in the hotel room, an Apple Bluetooth keyboard with Incase origami case to turn my iPad in to a better workstation.

I use my iPad all of the time for note taking and capturing ideas. Maybe half the time I need to bring out the PC for more serious content creation, supporting a customer or giving a presentation. I look and marvel at all of that processing power spread across my desk (or a table in my favourite Cafe) compared to those early personal computers. But more than anything, when I look at that collection what springs out at me is Darwin’s theory of evolution applied to technology. Although the iPhone is a kind of Swiss Army Knife that’s pretty good at a lot of things, actually specialisation (and spreading the battery life) rules! Just as in Nature, categories tend to split rather than combine. I do take quick photos to Tweet with the iPhone, but prefer to get serious with the Panasonic, although I’m not much of a photographer — my daughter and particularly my son have great eyes for composition and seeing the art, where I just take snaps and try to learn. My Olympus recorder is great for capturing meetings (I like grabbing the details). My iPod gives me a vast library of music for every mood without draining my phone. My Kindle is a must! I love to read (business books, historical fiction, Jack Reacher) in the gaps and when travelling, and the Paperwhite screen is a great reading experience in every lighting condition. All of the rest of the kit is just the support a modern road warrior needs in a World Gone Digital.

The other thing that jumps out at me is the amount of storage I’m carrying on my back. Let’s put it in context. I was a relative newbie at IBM when they announced the first ever thin film disk technology, the IBM 3370 — quite a breakthrough, on January 30, 1979 although they didn’t actually arrive at most customers until the start of 1980. This was significant as it was the first time you could have a big capacity drive that worked in a normal office environment, rather than needing a clean room with air conditioning and the like. The capacity of each drive was 571MB which was a huge leap at the time (that photo above has 4 of them in a row). A single drive weighed 575 lbs. They were 39.5 inches high, 30.5 inches wide and 32 inches deep. Quite a substantial beast in the corner of the office or more likely you still put it in a computer room.

They cost $35,100 in the USA and £27,500 in the UK (a very poor exchange rate for the time, but that is another story). In 1979 my relatively fat IBM salary got me a mortgage so I could buy my first home — a one bedroom flat on the first floor of 9 Westbourne Park Road, Bayswater in London for £18,000. I could have bought a nice house in the suburbs but I wanted to be in the centre of the city. Really not sure what £27,500 would have bought me but it would have been quite a nice, substantial dwelling somewhere. So the 3370 was the price of a house.

If you add up all of the GBs of storage in my bag it’s 741.25 (give or take a memory stick), so that means I’m carrying 1,298 times the storage capacity of that circa 1980 IBM 3370 disk. In 1980 that number of GBs would have weighed 333 tons! Or at 1980 prices the number GBs I have in my bag now would have cost me over £35 million.

Another couple of points to note in contrasting then and now — first is that I’m ignoring the processing power — quite a collection of computers in that bag. The second is that’s just the physical storage I’m carrying — with Office 365 and Dropbox Pro I’ve got instant access to a comparatively vast, practically unlimited amount more on the Cloud. This Moore’s Law andKryder’s Law stuff is quite something! Where next? Well it’s getting weird — silicon and conventional Moore’s Law has some time to run, but then it will be chemical computing, fluidic computing, ternery computing and more. Interesting times!

(first posted on Medium.com/@DT)

(Cross-posted @ David Terrar on Medium)

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Founder & CXO of Agile Elephant, a digital transformation consultancy and solutions provider. Head of D2C, a consulting firm which provides business and social media consulting and Cloud based solutions for content, collaboration, web publishing, online accounting and ERP. Was director EuroCloud UK, chaired techUK's Software as a Service Group, now Chair of Cloud Industry Forum.