October 18, 2010
It’s safe to say that many diehard superintendents and senior managers avoid any technology that threatens long held traditions of tightly papered jobsites. For them, computers are like voodoo, unknowable and unpredictable, a seemingly risky invasion of what has always been a guarded way of getting a building built.
A lot of this resistance comes from the rapid evolution of computer technologies. Things have changed so fast that many field managers are still thinking computers are cumbersome self-contained, and difficult to use. This misunderstanding started with vacuum tubes in the 1940’s and early 1950’s. First generation computers were huge, cumbersome, and incomprehensible.
Even with the invention of transistors in the 1960’s, computers were still the size of a large tool shed and generated so much heat they could never be placed outside of a climate controlled environment.
In the 1970’s, computers were reduced to cabinet-size central processing units and stacks of punch cards. But it wasn’t until the mid 1980’s and early 1990’s that small plastic boxes began showing up on jobsites.
Those little boxes were often declared a nuisance. They were low resolution and slow, with barely enough power to run simple scheduling and estimating programs. Add a dot-matrix printer and they seemed a lot more trouble than they were worth. By the year 2000, skeptical contractors concluded that computers could never do any real work, and they were right — then.
But 10 years is a long time in computer generations. In just over a decade, software, reliability, and power have changed dramatically. Multiple processors, high-resolution touch screen monitors, and gigabytes of memory have taken computers into areas of development that are completely reinventing construction management.
Today’s wireless computers fit into cell phones and thin little tablets, making once powerful two-year old desktop systems obsolete. These new computers are engineered to communicate with a cloud of internet based resources that rely on globally dispersed server-farms that deliver almost anything imaginable to the palm of your hand.
It’s all a bit overwhelming to a middle-generation manager. Even the young “old-timers,” who worked their way into construction in the last decade, find themselves falling seriously behind the technological curve.
Look over your shoulder
Waiting in the wings is a new generation of computer-confident men and women who have grown up with these devices all around them. They’ve had access to the web since grade school, and though their high school and college teachers may not understand real-world applications, this new crop of professionals is quick to learn. They have no fear.
And behind them are children so deeply plugged into their socially connected devices, they don’t even see them as computers. They were born into a networked world and are immediately prepared in pre-school for competitive careers using even more powerful systems.
There’s no doubt computers will be smaller and even more powerful in the future. Their ability to find, transmit, and use information will also be faster and more spontaneous.
The next generation is no longer chained to a desktop. Instead they’re linked to the broader world of hypergraphic information, part of a global information system with unlimited access to customized hypergraphic services, specialized methods, and graphical resources that only the web and internet can deliver.