In 1997, Intel commissioned One Digital Day: How the Microchip is Changing Our World art of the company’s thirtieth anniversary. The result is a coffee table book filled with pictures pertaining to the microchip, all taken on the same day. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, that doesn’t preclude the assortment of essays and captions featured in this tome. The foreword is written by Andy Grove, Chairman and CEO of Intel at the time of publication. Michael S. Malone introduces various “chapters” of the book, classifying photos under different categories. I use the term “chapter” loosely since, in this case, it identifies sets of photographs and their corresponding captions placed under a particular heading rather than what one would conventionally consider a chapter to be. This is a picture book for the adult who wants to look into the future with the same wide-eyed marvel as a child opening a superhero comic book for the first time. The difference? This is not fiction. This was actually happening over a decade ago.
What exactly were we doing on July 11, 1997 or what Andy Grove describes in his introduction as “last July, on an ordinary day?” To provide some personal background, in 1997, I was a seven-year-old first grader. Unlike most of my classmates, I did not have a personal computer. Instead, I would use my mother’s old electric typewriter to do assignments that required typing out. A computer was not seen as a necessity just yet, at least not by my family. This is why seeing the experiences of Katie Durbin, a five year old child at the time of the book’s conception, suffering from a condition which made her unable to walk in sunlight without getting severely burned (xeroderma pigmentosum or XP), is eye-opening. She is seen coping via an online network of friends on xps.org. Social media was already alive and well even before the advent of Facebook and Twiitter or their predecessors MySpace and Friendster. However, it wasn’t as prevalent. Still, the solace it provided for children like Katie, making them aware that they were not alone, proved indispensable. The first photo we see if Katie is one where she is shielded from the sun by her mother who swaddles her in cloth. It’s only on the next page that we see the charming child under the blanket, smiling and pointing at a computer monitor. Katie herself declares “The moon is my friend.” Thanks to the microchip, she’s able to make the acquaintance of more than just that singular heavenly body. Now, she’s in the company of children with bodies like hers through the internet. To my seven-year-old self, the thought of making friends with other children who might be on the other side of the planet would have been inconceivable. However, that is what happened. Back in 1997, a child younger than me was social networking while I tapped away at my typewriter.
Most of the book’s appeal is in seeing the advancements in 1997 from the point of view of one living in the new millennium. It’s like speaking to a grandparent and being surprised to discover that yes, they did already have colored television in the sixties. Now, it’s a bit more recent. We see that they already had social networking and voice activated software in 1997. IMAX films, something that only recently came to Philippine shores via the Mall of Asia, was already in use at New York City’s Sony IMAX theater where we see a slew of children wearing 3D glasses and pointing at the screen in awe. There are also pictures of a soldier in simulation programs that turn an entire room’s walls into screens with images projected onto them, immersing the combatant in a battle scenario. In Tokyo, Japan, we see a robot dubbed “WABOT-2” playing the electric organ. Even more astounding, this robot was built all the way back in 1984. We see a striking image of Buddhist monks in a computer shop and the caption claims “In addition to traditional methods, the monks, from the Maha Phrutharam Temple, use computers to learn about Buddha and his teachings.”
The way we perceive reality has changed. Time is fluid. We can be reached at any moment through our computers and our cellular phones via people we may have never even met in real life. If they had 15 billion microchips then, how many might he have now? No doubt we likely have more. Malone states that back in 1997, there were enough microprocessors for everyone on the planet to have two computers. How is it possible that, today, there are still many who have never touched a computer in their life? Even back then, the digital divide was a concern. After all, I can speak for myself and my typewriter with its lovely backspace key known as correction fluid. How do
you think technology has developed so far in your lifetime? Do you anticipate or dread what’s to come? Have you ever come across an old book and marvelled at how far we’ve come since it was published?