retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Longtime readers of MNB know that we're fond of the notion of change around here. We spend a lot of time pointing to the inexorable changes that affect and link business, culture and society, and tracking how they seem to be happening faster than anyone expects.

So it is was this in mind that two stories this weekend came to my attention.

The Associated Press reports that Voyager 1 is on the verge of breaking through the giant plasma bubble that envelops our solar system, becoming the first manmade object to venture into "the other side" of space. This really is where no one has gone before; the story notes that "Voyager 1 is in uncharted celestial territory. One thing is clear: The boundary that separates the solar system and interstellar space is near, but it could take days, months or years to cross that milestone." (Once it does so, we can only hope that it does not return to Earth seeking its creator ... but I digress.)

The story points out that Voyager 1 was launched 35 years ago this coming Wednesday. (Voyager 2 was launched in a different direction, and is 9 billion miles behind its older sibling.) And here's the passage about both that I found to be most revealing about how far we've come:

Each only has 68 kilobytes of computer memory. To put that in perspective, the smallest iPod - an 8-gigabyte iPod Nano - is 100,000 times more powerful. Each also has an eight-track tape recorder. Today's spacecraft use digital memory.

That's remarkable. But even more remarkable is that these spacecraft keep on moving, keep on sending back new and revelatory information about the universe in which we live, forever changing the way in which we view it.

And then, there was another story about technological change that caught my eye. The Chicago Sun Times has a piece this morning about how the use of voice mail - which not that long ago seemed like such an enormous improvement over the old-fashioned answering machine - seems to be on the decline.

According to the story, "With the rise of texting, instant chat and transcription apps, more people are ditching the tool that once revolutionized the telephone business, displaced armies of secretaries and allowed us to eat dinner more or less in peace. The behavioral shift is occurring in tandem with the irreversible fading of voice calls in general, prompting more wireless carriers to offer unlimited voice minutes."

Vonage, for example, says that the number of voice mail messages left for users was down eight percent during July compared to the same month a year earlier; retrieved voice mail was actually down 14 percent in the same period. And Vonage, the story says, is responding to the shift by offering "a new service that converts voice messages for delivery as email or text."

Anyone with kids won't be entirely surprised by this story; we've known for a while that young people prefer to send text messages and not actually talk on the phone and/or leave messages.

But it is a constant reminder of how things change. Voice mail seemed like such a major tech leap just a few years ago, but now, it may not even have the life expectancy of a 35-year-0old spacecraft.

It is all an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: