On being … revolutionary

By Ingrid Sapona

Regardless of how old you are, I’m sure you’d agree that many products that were revolutionary in our great grandparents’ day are almost unrecognizable in their current iteration. Take phones, for instance. We all grew up with our own dedicated phone line at home while our great grandparents might not have had a phone, or they might have shared a party line. (My friend Sandy’s parents’ cottage had a party line well into the 1990s, so we’re not talking ancient history here.)

Twenty years ago – in other words, just one generation ago – the idea of a mobile phone seemed like something invented by comedy writers (remember Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone?) or sci-fi enthusiasts. Then all of a sudden, cell phones came on the scene and a mere decade later they morphed into smart phones that are computers more powerful than those used by NASA to send astronauts to the moon.

But it’s not just technology products that have changed dramatically in our lifetime — the revolution is happening in so many areas. Take autos, for example. Automatic transmission and power steering were pretty much the norm by the time I learned to drive, but I clearly remember when cars went from rear-wheel to front-wheel drive, for example. And, of course, the revolution to fully electrical vehicles has already hit and it seems clear that driverless cars are just around the corner. Does that mean that George Jetson’s mode of transportation is on the horizon too? Who knows …

Some changes in the way products are designed are so revolutionary, they amount to almost a definitional change. Take car keys, for example. Nowadays, you don’t need them to enter OR start the car. Instead of a key, you carry an electronic device that sends a signal to a computer in the car that’s programmed to allow the person to get in and to start the car.

This notion about needing to update the definition of something came to mind this past week because of some work that’s being done in my condo building. Last year we found out that Kitec piping was used when the building was built (15 or so years ago). It was a popular piping product in its day, and up to code. But, since then it’s been found to be faulty in that it just bursts — with no warning. Our condo association has decided that having Kitec in the building poses a risk, and so we’re replacing it throughout the building.

So, when I say the word piping, what do you picture? More specifically, does the image in your mind’s eye change if I say “plumbing pipes in a home”? The image that comes to mind for me is rigid copper or some sort of plastic tubing that water flows through. I have this image from the plumbing in the home I grew up in. It was a ranch house and from the basement you could see all the pipes running through the joists. Looking up at the rafters it was clear that, in contrast to wiring that you can bend or twist, with pipes you needed “elbow joints” or other specially made curved bits if you wanted the water to go in a direction other than straight ahead.

Well, it turns out, while those of us not in the plumbing or building trades were busy trying to keep up with the digital revolution, there’s been a revolution in the pipe world too. I found this out this week, as our massive piping replacement project got underway. When the contractor started unloading the supplies, I expected to see long lengths of pipe laying in the hallway, awaiting their installation. Instead, they brought in coiled bundles of stuff that I’d describe as hose.

So, in the 60+ years since the house I grew up in was built, water pipes have been transformed into flexible hoses. In thinking about it, I realized I shouldn’t have been quite so astonished because a few years back I replaced the “line” from the water tank in my boat to my little galley sink and that line was a hose. But still, wouldn’t you think plumbing supplies for a 200+-unit condo building would be different from what you’d use in a 25-foot sailboat?

I know change is all around us (even hidden in our walls!). But sometimes, it’s just so surprising. And, as a person who works with words, I find it particularly frustrating when our vocabulary just doesn’t fit with reality any longer. Keys are not keys, icons are not icons, pipes are not pipes any more.

What about you? What revolutionary change has caught you by surprise recently?

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


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