Log in

No account? Create an account
03 April 2013 @ 02:20 pm
So someone, I think it was rfmcdpei, recently linked to a piece collecting laments on how technological change has slowed.  Well, my grandmother also lived from before cars to after the moon landing, but I'm not going to be lamenting about missing out on technical change, because someone isn't looking in the right places.

When I was a young child, my family took a lone trip out to Missouri to visit my mother's extended family.  My maternal grandfather came along, and on the long drive he talked some about his parents and grandparents, with my young self carrying away a vivid impression of a young woman from England, widowed not long after her arrival on these shores and left with my great-grandmother to take care of.  And I was terribly curious, but there was no way for me to find out more; whatever further details might exist were locked away in file cabinets and registrars.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when my DNA results from 23andme arrived.  To make sense of them, I started charting my pedigree.  Now, my father comes from a long line of obsessive genealogists, so that side was no trouble.  But my mother's side was more difficult; those English relatives seemed just out of reach as they did when I was a child.  How could you possibly find out much about people that all you know was that they were named Smith and came from England more than a century ago?

Well, it turns out, you can find out a whole damn lot now.  A quick google for my mother's uncles found me a bulletin board where someone mentioned having some information on the family.  A equally quick email got me connected with an extremely talented amateur genealogist who had my great-great-grandmother's death certificate, downloaded from the Missouri online archives.  And we were off, and in a week-long spree assembled a sprawling data portrait of a clan of Yorkshire coal and iron miners, back into the 18th century. 

And it's  not just the mere availability of the records online; it's the sophisticated computer analysis that does much of the work for you, so that it's not just a mass of undifferentiated data but that you can be presented with the most likely candidates.  Even with the availability of the records, the work would have taken years without those electronic assistants.  Sure, sometimes it still takes a human eye looking at an image to recognize a scratched out and written over town name... but that's the point: the repetitive work is done, and it's only the most problematic and interesting work that the human has to do.

That's technological change, and anyone who thinks that at the age of 55 that they have seen only 'trivial changes' in their life is quite oblivious.
Randy McDonaldrfmcdpei on April 4th, 2013 03:10 am (UTC)
Not me, but thanks for the link!
Lauratavella on April 4th, 2013 05:45 am (UTC)
Hmm! Now I'm wondering where it was from. I know it was a livejournal link roundup, I opened a tab and didn't get to it for a while, whereupon I ranted.
Confessions of a Strange Loopwebbob on April 4th, 2013 04:35 am (UTC)
My domestic partner is taking a (re)training course to qualify as a biomanufacturing technician. She's learning about the required methods and procedures used to produce very high molecular weight biologically active compounds (I think of them as "hormonesque") using DNA recombination and (mostly) mammalian cells.

Last week I made a sad trip to Ottawa to help my family following the death of my Dad on 24 March of this year. One of the medications he was using was a poetin (I think, though it Ottawa it might have been "poutine") drug specifically intended to help people with renal insufficiency or failure by increasing red blood cell production and so counter anemia due to their primary kidney problems. This was, of course, one of those high molecular weight (around 10 kilodaltons) hormonesque compounds manufactured by processes my partner is learning about.

The processing plant for this kind of thing is a cross between the plumbing of a dairy and the clean rooms of microelectronics manufacturing, with the sterile handling measures of an operating room thrown in for good measure, so there is arguably nothing new there.

However, the key technology, from identifying compounds and applications of interest though working out how to manufacture it in quantity is very, very new. It just doesn't involve flames and lasers and like that.
Lauratavella on April 4th, 2013 05:47 am (UTC)
Hell, even space exploration has done fabulous things -- it's that we have incredibly smart machines that can explore other planets without humans. And that's not as showy as Apollo. Just more informative.
Beth Leonardbeth_leonard on April 5th, 2013 05:11 am (UTC)
Answering machines, personal computers, pocket video cameras, e-mail, does this guy even know how burdensome it was to communicate or organize large events back when I was a kid? Or is he so young that he never knew life before e-mail? People used to have to plan events much farther in advance. People had smaller gatherings.

People hid anything about themselves that they felt was unusual because they were sure they were the only one in the world with that problem, but now there's the internet and special-interest groups for everything. Really into My Little Pony? There's a group for that. Socially it's been an amazing revolution. You already mentioned medicine. I'm only 3.7 decades old. It took 6 to go from horses to man-on-the-moon. And within the next decade or two we'll have gone to self driving cars, virtually eliminating non-suicide auto deaths. Simultaneously, we'll also be crossing the thresh hold where people don't die of old age anymore, due to the wealthiest boomers paying every last cent they own to discover the fountain of youth.

IMHO, we need to change the US constitution now so that supreme court justices serve a term of life or 100 years, whichever comes first. We also need to figure out how to deny that technology to inmates... because ick. Did you hear about that 78 year old serving a life sentence released from prison for good behavior who killed his mother within a few weeks of his release? Ick.

We've seen as much change as my great-grandmother. The world of today is unrecognizable from the one of my childhood, and it's only getting better. Wikipedia? Humans spread knowledge faster now than ever before.