My first computer was a 386 PC. Its hard drive topped out at 160 megs. Paid $400 for the machine. It was fabulously useful two decades ago. Today, it's taking up space in an upstairs closet, an obsolete, outdated museum piece that I couldn't give away, except perhaps to a PC museum.
The laptop on which this is being typed cost two and a half times as much as the 386 in nominal dollars. It has 1,000 times as much hard drive capacity as the 386 and runs a whole lot faster.
Technology marches on ... except for those folks with an ax to grind who assert that the way things are today are the way they will always be.
Witness the saga of the Chevrolet Volt. GM's "extended range" high-mileage baby, which supplements an electric motor with a small internal combustion engine, has caught flak because in a handful of cases, battery fires broke out days or weeks after the Volt was crash-tested. See, the champions of the energy status quo argue, electric vehicles will never work. They catch fire. Well ... so do gasoline-fueled conventional cars. Some 200,000 accidental car fires broke out in 2010, according to a recent report from the National Fire Protection Association. Gasoline is flammable. Always has been, always will be.
Back to my point. Similar it-will-never-work arguments have been raised in connection with Solyndra, the solar manufacturer that took a dive when the business model for its untried design collapsed along with the prices of competing photovoltaic products. See, the status quo cheerleaders argue, solar will never work. The federal government threw away half a billion dollars of the taxpayers' scratch subsidizing crony capitalists peddling an impractical, uneconomic technology.
At the risk of beating a dead light bulb, those arguments are similar to the meme about federal lighting efficiency standards, that busybody bureaucrats are forcing people to get rid of cheap, reliable incandescent bulbs in favor of weird-looking fluorescents that give people headaches.
Such arguments betray a political agenda that does not square with history. Technology advances in some ways that we might be able to predict but in many ways that we cannot foresee. Fun fact: if computer chips had not advanced beyond the state of the technology as it was in 1975, the Apple iPod would cost $1 billion and would be very difficult to put into your pocket because it would be the size of a building.
Thomas Edison's great-grandson, Barry Edison Sloane, recently wrote an op-ed saying his ancestor would be delighted at the technological improvements that have delivered new lighting products to consumers and would be frustrated at the anti-efficiency light brigade's mossbacked opposition to innovation.
Edison's lab in West Orange, New Jersey is a national historic site. Chances are excellent that today's critics of technological innovation will not be so honored in the future. Perhaps one of them would like to have my old 386.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.