We tend to think everything’s improving all the time, and that only grumpy old folks (like me) think things were better in the past. But with problems like information overload, the decline in conversation, obsession with smartphones and lots of other disruptive change it might be worthwhile to look back in time every now and then, to see just how much improvement there really has been. I’m not reporting on any kind of rigorous study in this post, I’m just using my own experience and I’m being intentionally provocative by being a little selective, but here goes, 10 years ago:
- I was using a small light weight Windows tablet, that allowed me to change batteries without hibernating it, had a great desktop docking station, a 4:3 format and a Wacom digitizer. It was attached to a big second screen on my desk, but in my bag everywhere I travelled, of course it had mobile internet.
- I was using a fantastic Blackberry that was perfect for ploughing through the emails. With it’s excellent clicky keyboard, large outdoor visible screen, and superb thumb wheel for scrolling and selecting I was never more productive while mobile.
- I had an mp3 player for podcasts to keep me entertained
- I had a Nokia 6310i mobile phone which still works fine, it lasted for days on a single charge, still gets a better signal than my iPhone today and had an excellent car kit (I still use this phone while travelling so I can make extended free calls to my wife and kids)
- My laptop was fast and had an excellent 1400×1050 display that’s better than the laptop I use now. It ran Windows 2003 which was rock solid and allowed me to run a couple of virtual machines with no problems
- I didn’t worry too much about laptop battery life because every desk, meeting room and easy chair had a charging cable built in. It even let me swap the DVD drive for a second battery.
- I didn’t get too much email, because most of my work was done by a focussed collocated team who all new each other and saw each other every day
- Everyone in the team could easily share files with each other
- Conference calls were something that happened at most once a day and were only for the type of meetings that required discussion and debate with the extended team
- We had plenty of meeting rooms and breakout areas so most of the time no one was disturbed by other peoples phone calls
- Meetings had associated meeting minutes and action lists, so if you missed a meeting it was easy to catch up
- Everyone (including the leaders) in the team wrote a weekly highlight report, so everyone new what everyone else was doing, who was struggling and needed help and our health metrics helped us look after everyone
- Our team had members from every disciple working together without any political stove pipes
- Our main source of information came in the post in the form of carefully curated magazines, so information overload was much less of a problem
- People answered the phone and we actually enjoyed talking to people that way
- You could always reach team members by phone, because everyone had a mobile and people weren’t on conference calls all day
- Everyone in the team had a laptop, even the admin support staff so we had a fully flexible office
- We didn’t need instant messaging most of the time because we could easily glance across the room to see if people were busy and if not pop over for a chat
- We still had instant messaging though for keeping in touch with virtual team members and other contacts and in some ways it was better than we have now
- All of our meeting rooms had projectors installed and most of the whiteboards supported eBeams which allowed to record the meetings and also allowed virtual participants to see us drawing on them in real time
- We could share our screens with other team members with a few clicks using NetMeeting, but not outside the company
- Of course we had Wi-Fi thorough the office
We got a lot done, but unfortunately our bags were HEAVIER!
Note: some of the above recollections were drawn from a period 10-12 years ago, but I’ve pooled them all at 10 years just for dramatic affect.
I was mulling over this post while on my evening walk last night, it’s worth noting that 12 years ago I would probably have still been in the office. I wrote this post in Caffe Nero in an easy chair and it’s also worth noting that we had lots of easy chairs and even a library in the office so that people could chill out throughout the day and we had a great coffee machine. I chose a photo from an evening walk a few months ago.