By John Curtis, Mayor of Provo.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2017 edition of Silicon Slopes Magazine.
The first laptop I owned was a Radio Shack TRS80. I purchased it as a senior at BYU in 1985. In today’s dollars it cost about $4,500 — a fortune for a married student. Although I purchased it because I wanted to be ahead of the technology curve I found myself slightly embarrassed to pull it out in any of my classes. I remember a proud moment when I upgraded the 32K of memory to 64K. With that much memory I could write and store several letters or one school paper. I quickly learned that I could use a cassette tape to download my data to free up memory.
I’ve lost track of the names and number of computers that I’ve owned since that time. None of them have impacted my life the way that first computer did over 30 years ago. In today’s world it’s almost impossible to be the first to adopt anything and even for those who adopt early the time to enjoy that solitude is short. In 1985 buying a laptop put me in a unique class for a very long time. I used the laptop in my first job and I learned that my credibility with customers jumped off the charts when I pulled out my 64K-marvel of technology.
Seven years ago I experimented with social media. As a mayoral candidate I was encouraged to open a Facebook account. I opened the account and just like the feeling I had upgrading to 64K of memory, I thought I was pretty cool when I was able to report that I had recruited a dozen friends. Once again the experience has been life changing. I love that I can see videos of my grandkids via Snapchat, communicate with my family and friends on Facebook, and broadcast the State of the City on Periscope.
As a guy who grew up with a party line in our home, I love being around people who don’t even know what a party line was (Google it). I often find myself jealous of a generation that can buy and carry in their pockets or on their wrist something that is infinitely more powerful and cheaper than my laptop of 1985. I can’t wait to see what we do with this power. I believe that just like the TV, Utah will be the place that unleashes the next wave of advancement.
All of this sounds great. How can we go wrong? The greatest likelihood of us getting off track is if we don’t bring all demographics along with us for the ride. I know Utah will excel in technology but we need to do more. We need to make sure we have everyone on the bus. Unless we remove barriers for those who lack wealth, education, or resources it won’t be true success.
I believe the best of technology starts with awareness. It would be worth slowing down and taking a head count. Do our daughters have ample opportunities to excel in STEM before college? Are our at-risk kids getting access to tech education? Are we providing ample support to working women, including day care options? Do the senior citizens in our lives feel they can navigate tech safely? Those of us who’ve been privileged to get a head start in tech (I am looking at you fellow TRS80 users) have a responsibility to bring everyone with us on this journey.
What a trip it’s has been so far, and will be to come.