Technology has spurred human advancement for centuries. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in business. The economic and business implications from advancing technologies have resulted in substantial societal change, from the iPhone to the Telegraph.
Appreciating technology means examining the past to understand where we came from. The people interpreting Morse code in 1870 are the same as we are today – they used technology to change lives and build the U.S. on the backs of business and enterprise. The only thing they were missing was the smartphone.
Our relationship with technology has changed drastically within the last decade, and with new and exciting tech on the horizon, looking at our journey up until this point will illuminate some of the challenges that lie ahead.
The telegraph started the telecommunications revolution in America back in the mid-19th century. Samuel Morse worked on the telegraph and sent the first telegram from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore in 1844.
The impact the telegraph had on business is immeasurable – it allowed for instantaneous communication between points hundreds or even thousands of miles away. It helped usher in the railroad in America, which allowed for the transportation of goods, services and people across the nation.
Like the telegraph, the telephone acted as another way communication revolutionized the way people lived, worked and interacted with each other.
Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876. The technology allowed for easy, cheap communication across large regions of the U.S. It also revolutionized the way businesses communicated forever.
Henry Ford and mass production
Henry Ford and the development of the assembly line was the genesis of modern manufacturing, a process which completely changed business and the availability of consumer goods.
Mass production in the early 20th century helped usher in an era where workers were concentrated in cities, decently paid and had goods and services available for purchase. Some even argue that mass production is one of the factors that eventually led to America's middle class.
TV was a big stepping stone for business because of its impact on advertising and consumer culture. The popularity of TV – especially among children – gave businesses a platform to advertise products, sponsor shows and pitch their services to millions of people through one medium.
TV also was a major factor in spurring consumer culture – the middle class had firmly established itself in American society and had disposable income. TV helped the economy grow as more and more businesses became focused on creating consumer goods that met a person's every want or need.
The digital computer allowed for the consolidation of the workplace and massive data storage. Paired with the internet, this was a major communication revolution that allowed businesses to operate more efficiently.
Instead of recording memos and typing them later, or even using a typewriter and making copies, computers, printers, and the internet allowed for easy information creation and dissemination – a practice vital to any business. It also made certain processes significantly easier, like business finance or accounting.
The mobile phone was the first step in workplace flexibility. Companies could reach employees anywhere at any time, and that allowed for better communication among workers and an increase in business efficiency.
Managers who were out of the office could stay in touch with workers and get things done from anywhere. The mobile phone allowed for easy communication and made connecting with someone, regardless of where they were, possible.
Like the mobile phone, the laptop allowed for workers to get things done on the go while staying connected with their teams. The laptop, which is smaller, easier to transport and less expensive than desktops, was a crucial piece of technology for workers on the go. Sales teams could now stay connected with the company, workers could work remotely and people that frequently traveled could work in airports or on trains.
If the mobile phone meant better communication, then the laptop allowed for workers to get things done while they were out of the office.
The smartphone melds both the laptop and the mobile phone – workers could communicate from anywhere, contribute on company-based platforms like email or messaging apps, and finish work wherever they were. The smartphone also ushered in another wave of consumer culture. The technology industry, spurred in the past by the computer, laptop, and mobile phone, now had a new opportunity to create programs and market products.
The smartphone revolution, which started with the release of the iPhone in 2007, has exploded since. This year, it's expected that over a third of the world's population will own a smartphone – that's more than 2.5 billion people.
In its infancy, social media seemed like the latest way for people to connect, revolutionizing communication across the globe. As it developed in the mid-2000s, it proved to be a useful business tool as well.
Much like the smartphone, social media became another platform for businesses and technology companies to connect with users and market products. This eventually led to the emergence of companies that market only on social media. Glossier, a beauty and cosmetics startup, is the latest example of a company that markets via user-generated content on social media.
3D printing is the latest major tech development to impact business. The 3D printing process has been around since the late 1980s, but it is poised for tremendous growth and could change the way businesses manufacture and develop hardware.
It's expected that 3D printing will impact different types of business like the automotive, aviation and machinery industries. This technology is expected to continue to have a major impact on American business and could change the way some companies operate.