From Switchboards to Cell Phones

September 19, 2011
Here at the peak of The NEWS’ 85th anniversary year, we have drawn a lot of comparisons between 1926 and 2011. Sometimes it is more difficult than others.

When it comes to the way we run our businesses, so many things have changed in the office alone; we couldn’t in good conscience compare them back to 1926. How could we compare today’s electronic and handheld measurement, computing, and communication systems to those of yesteryear? “Yes, we’ve gone from tape measures to lasers and from switchboards to cell phones” — it’s too easy. We may as well compare our current business systems and technologies with our cave-dwelling ancestors. (“Oh yes, we have come a long way from fire signals!”)


What about comparing energy conservation, or sustainability, back to 1926? Energy conservation back then probably meant the amount of personal energy a housewife would save by having a new, electric refrigerator, instead of the old ice box. She also saved money due to decreased food spoilage. During World War II, people needed to conserve food and fuel, and recycle materials like rubber and metal, to help support the war effort. It is not the same.

To get a truer comparison, we need to look back to the 1970s and 80s, when rising oil prices caused hardships at the gas pumps and in our homes. Some of us remember President Jimmy Carter advising us to turn down the thermostat (in winter) and put on a sweater. The setback thermostat is now a staple in the HVAC industry, but people are not nearly as ready to sacrifice their personal comfort as they were during the 40s, or even the 70s. They are, however, interested in saving money — and dads are probably just as likely to want to control the thermostat now, as they ever were.

The renewable/solar energy movement that blossomed in the 70s and early 80s withered when paybacks, which were based on utility offsets, dried up and blew away because electricity costs had dropped so dramatically. It has returned, sometimes as regional infrastructure investments, and sometimes as individual home add-ons.

The geothermal market also took root during that time, but when the rebates left, the market stayed. It has proven its ability to hang on without extreme rebates, due in part to the favor it found with architects in the larger new home market.


Then there’s social networking; this is the new cocktail reception, where people in an industry get together, share some stories, and maybe interact more casually with each other than they normally would during normal business communication.

People still can get important information in person, with a beverage in hand. But they also lose business cards and forget conversations. Social networking by its very structure leaves important contact information between the people having a conversation, in addition to a record of the conversation itself. The follow through is still up to you.

We still have significant commonalities with these past generations. The main one is the people factor. People still want comfort and convenience at a reasonable cost — reasonable enough, we hope, to ensure that systems are designed, installed, and maintained well.

People still get cranky when they’re hot, and even though they worry about money, they appreciate value. And despite our appreciation of new and novel technologies, people appreciate a personal touch. The difference is that today, it might be delivered in the form of an email, or a NEWS article about 1926 that you read on your phone.

Publication date: 09/19/2011

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