Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The digital age accelerating at dizzying pace

I need new carpet. So I called around for estimates, and two guys made appointments to come and take measurements.

The first guy arrives in a weatherbeaten pickup truck. He carries a sturdy, good-quality tape measure and a dog-eared notebook. He looks to be about 50-ish, with a friendly smile and tan lines in the wrinkles around his eyes. He takes about 15-20 minutes, spooling and unspooling his tape measure and scribbling notes. Unlike mine, his tape measure never buckles or sticks. I'm envious. He says hi to my kids on the way out.

Second guy comes couple days later. He's late 20s, early 30s, all business, driving a sedan. Instead of a notebook, he's carrying a tablet computer with a touchscreen and a special touch-sensitive pen. And instead of a tape measure, he whips out what looks like a chunky TV remote and aims it at my dining room wall. A red laser dot appears on the wall (I think the thing beeped) and he moved on to the next wall.

Master of the obvious that I am, I ask him if that's a digital tape measure. Yep, he says. The readings automatically flow into the tablet. Ten minutes later, he shakes my hand and exits, leaving me marveling about our increasingly digitized society.

The first place I'd noticed that kind of tablet in use was at my doctor's office a couple years ago. Now my carpet installer's getting in on the act. One more sign of how rapidly digital technology is permeating every aspect of our lives. Everybody says it's progress, and I don't doubt it is. But sometimes it seems technology's moving faster than our ability to process all the social, cultural and ethical implications (See: Google's botched rollout of Google Buzz).

I love all the shiny new toys as much as the next gadget freak. But I sure hope we can all still keep an eye on the macros -- the big-picture ways they're changing the way we work, play, communicate, buy and sell.

One other difference I should note between the two carpet installers: the guy with the manual tape measure arrived on time.


Brian said...

Great piece. The real question - which bid was lower? Does the old guy's low overhead keep prices low, or does the young guy's increased efficiency allow him to do more volume and make more money even while possibly taking a lower margin. In other words: is there positive ROI on the digital tape measure & tablet.

Hope you're well.

Andy Aldridge said...

I'm betting that Mr. Old School relied on his many years of knowing Charlotte's roads and traffic to get to your home, as well. The newbie probably used a GPS, and is perpetually late.

Bill said...

Great column, Eric. Your experience with the carpet installers was very interesting and well written.

Thank you.

Algernon said...


Sonic measuring devices and tablets have been around for over a decade, the ability to link them as well.

I still have and use the ones I purchased in 2003.
My 76 year old mother borrowed the measure last week to calculate paint requirements.

What am I missing?

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