I know that we are living in the future, but it's still worth stopping every now and then to really appreciate how things have changed. It was maybe thirteen years ago that I got my first PC. It was very exciting, because it had an extra large hard disk -- 80MB. To use this massive capacity, we neede a special controller card, and the disk itself was the size of a shoebox, and made a grinding, rumbling noise. Eventually, after upgrading the computer from a 286 to a 486 a few years later, it was just possible to fit DOOM on this disk, and after waiting for a few minutes, the game was almost playable, providing it didn't crash.
Fastforward to 2004. I recently bought a SD memory card for something like $15. It's about a square centimetre or two in area, and a few millimetres thick. And it holds 128MB. And what do I keep on it? Photos from a digital camera. About four of them, and that's more than all of Doom. Meanwhile, dangling from my key chain is a USB flash drive with 512MB -- that's twice the size of the 256MB drive I bought ten years back to replace the 80MB behemoth. Let's not even mention the 60GB sitting on my lap as I type this, or the quarter *terabyte* in the machine in the corner of the room.
Does anyone particularly care? Well, probably not. But maybe for the first time, it feels like technology has advanced sufficiently that you can actually do things with it. I spent a couple of hours last night trying to get two machines to talk to each other over a windows network, and it occurred to me that this was the first time in a long while that I've actually been dealing with hardware configurations and software issues. When I was a kid, I used to do this all the time: I'd hardly ever use the computer to do anything, instead, I'd spend hours configuring it to work, like trying to get it to run doom or windows 3.0, but not really do anything when it worked. Nowadays, I hardly ever do much configuring, instead I'm actually using the thing. Admittedly, I'm using it to surf the web, write email, or (occasionally) do some work, rather than, I don't know, command my robot army, but still, it's a big step forward.