Randy found himself on the floor of the bus, wondering what had gone wrong. He had gotten on the bus in September of 1985. The summer was hot in Los Angeles, and he was tired from being up all night because of the newborn baby. After seven years of marriage, living abroad and starting graduate school in his late twenties, the foreshadowing of events was written in the shadows of Royce Hall as he made us way up the long, long stairs from the parking lot. In his mind, rolled the new vocabulary: Pascal, DOS, C:\\dir, ipconfig, WordStar, dBase II. Randy was heading for graduate school and he thought he was going to change the world with computers. The words seemed familiar as he had been studying them all summer, but the images of what exactly he was going to change weren’t so clear to him as he passed ceremoniously through the Romanesque columns en route to his very first class. Hallowed halls, new machines, where could it all be going. It all seemed so exciting, yet oddly at the same time ominous. Change was always scary.
Little did he realize that he was entering right into the halls which were birthing the second wave of computing. The first wave had occurred inside big rooms in universities like this one all over the country in the past decade. In fact, he could hear mainframe computers whirring and calculating long mathematical operations as giants of performance as he passed through the hall. Punch card bits lie all over the floor of the punch card room, too tiny to pick up. They’d have to wait for the end of the day when the janitor came in and vacuumed the room. Across the nation, he read large businesses had hired specialized programmers to sit in air conditioned rooms to write programs to predict the business outcomes for the enterprises of the future. It all seemed so important, so accomplished. Randy didn’t see much of this world develop over the past decade, but he certainly was getting a fair dose of how it happened and who made in happen as he poured over his exams and reference reading. He was immune to it all, really. The big accomplishments had been made. He was looking for something new, something untried.
And then, the second wave roared into existence with the appearance of the personal computer. Randy had arranged to meet a white van in Westwood to spend a huge sum of money to buy into the future. $2400.00 for a young parent in graduate school in the late mid 80s was like a down payment on a house. The van driven by two young Iranians, pulled up in front of the theater. No one was in the theater at this time of the day, so it was a great place for the hand off. Randy wasn’t really sure who these guys were, but his advisor had given him their number, so it all had to be good. He brought cash, borrowed from a relative and made his purchase of a large box that was moved with ease by one of the Iranians into his 1972 Volkswagen bus. The two young deliverers got promptly back into their truck and drove down the street out of site forever. The sunshine glared through the Volkswagen window as Randy slammed the side door shut.
The decade marched on and it was all computational linguistics, theory, word processing, spreadsheets, databases, working late into the night gathering and recalculating. The work came easy, and it was convenient to perform. The newborn in his bassinet lay next to the desk. Randy’s PC beamed like a beacon of light into the future from the front window of his tiny, carriage house, about 40 miles from campus. Randy collected his data, changed a diaper, warmed up a bottle, and took the baby and the dog for a walk around the block. His wife worked during the day supporting their house in the barrio. She had come home for lunch, since she was only five miles away. They talked while the baby suckled. For both of them, the spell checker was a godsend, and both parents profited in school and in business from such digital wonders. Lotus 1-2-3 printer string commands were part of the trivia they talked.
But the afternoon lunch would end, and the term had to be progress. So, Randy submitted his work, defended his thesis, and rolled down the freeway en route to a new job in which he’d use everything he’d learned about computing and changing the world. Memories danced in his head during the drive of his kids playing Gertrude Secrets, Jammer, and Captain Comic in between his intense choreography with the keyboard. His family had grown larger much like the software was growing exponentially. Software packages like oversized cereal boxes bullied their way onto the store shelves. They were everywhere now, like Ants dominating the house in the SimAnt game that he looked forward to playing with his son upon his return to home. The change was blinding, and lucrative, and the ants were exterminated by the 12 year old first.
As the years went by, the software and hardware changed as quickly as the children. It actually followed along the same path. It started out in grade school, turning bits into bytes, into megabytes and gigabytes. The technology grew older and started building longer lasting relationships like his sons and daughters were relishing in junior high. Then like high school, as the children turned into men and women, PCs turned into tablets, and then into handheld mobile devices. Software turned into apps and social networks, and the whole computing model moved away from home and became an infrastructure as a service in a big cloud of amorphous interconnected nodes. Suddenly the PC and the home were empty nests. The way everyone was disappearing seemed even more foreboding.
Randy watched his car turn into 40 computers with wheels, and decided to take the bus around the city to help keep the world greener. As he poked at his iPad, tweeting here, and blogging there, looking for his location on Google maps, it suddenly occurred to him that something was out of control. He didn’t see the stranger standing at the bus stop, who suddenly was there standing in front of him. He was larger than most people, glimmering in the sunlight stabbing through the window. His face seemed to wrap around his head almost a bit too far. His clothing had sensors all over it, and he seemed to be whirring or making a funny electrical noise, like he had a battery somewhere tucked in his chest cavity that was powering all of the devices he was wearing. He was talking way too fast using words that Randy was unfamiliar with — some terms he understood, gamification, serious play, virtualization, and something about how unnecessary human beings were anymore. He was reading Vigne on his iPad, and it seemed just a bit eerie. Was he really hearing the stranger right?
Then, suddenly Randy saw the barrel of a gun. It was a gun that was attached to the person’s arm – or was it – it was almost as though it were suspended in the empty space between Randy and the stranger. It was holographic, like it was emanating from the stranger, not really attached to the stranger. Around the gun were augmented reality features floating everywhere, even blocking the stranger’s full body. He saw streaming data, pictures moving very rapidly, some kind of numbers flipping by very rapidly. As Randy looked closer he saw a word cloud appear above the hologram. He started recognizing words that were personal to him – places he’d been, things that he had done, items placed on Path, things he had just said over a Skype call. He saw a Flipboard of people that he had known for a long time. He saw the numbers counting down rapidly, not increasing. He saw words turning into ciphers like a strange kind of Romulan language with the pictures and words and numbers all converging into something that he really didn’t understand at all.
Then suddenly he heard, “it’s too much for you. The future has arrived. And you’re not in it”.
Then all that remained was smoke in the air, the sounds of the bus growing more and more distant, and a weightlessness that Randy had never felt before. His last thought was “the third wave of computing had arrived” … and it was ubiquitous.