Forward We Have Gone

July 18, 2019

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Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot, spent 21 and a half hours alone in space – watching, waiting and trusting that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would safely complete the first manned landing on the moon. He believed the hard work of the men and women on earth would ensure their success – and he was right. They succeeded thanks to technological advances humanity had never known before. Traveling back to earth with his fellow astronauts, Collins remarked that “it is most important that we be going forward.”

While it’s safe to say Collins was just hoping they were headed in the right direction home…humanity has steadily progressed forward, with technology innovation from both the 20th and 21st centuries guiding us along the journey.

There is a lot of discussion around trust and technology today. The so-called ‘techlash’ has emerged because some feel that a few of the most innovative companies have gotten too big, too powerful and too unmanageable. However, they have reached this point because people crave the innovation they provide. We trust them with our data because we know that without this trust there would be no innovation – no forward movement.

On July 20, we will celebrate the 50-year anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first taking their “giant leap for mankind.” And in the past five decades, we have made leap after leap – creating a world few could have previously imagined.

As I write this post (on my wireless keyboard), I briefly peek at breaking news and Instagram alerts on my mobile phone, comforted in the knowledge that my document is constantly autosaving. It goes without saying that the technology industry has evolved over the past 50 years—making our lives simultaneously easier and more complex. While they may pick on their parents and grandparents for not knowing how to add an attachment to an email, the Millennials and Gen Z’ers out there that cannot imagine a world without Snapchat, streaming video or Wi-Fi should note that these modern conveniences were things of science fiction when their parents were their age.

Eight years before the moon landing, in 1961, sitting president John F. Kennedy announced the goal of sending an American safely to the moon before the end of the decade. As a result, NASA engineers and the best and brightest academic minds of the time set forth on a journey that would rapidly accelerate the pace of technology development. The intense, exhaustive research and development that powered all the Apollo missions, including Apollo 11, launched humanity in the direction it has gone since, paving the way for the hyper-connected, technology-dependent world we live in today.

Many – if not all – of the technology we use today can track their roots in some way to Apollo and the related research and innovation conducted by NASA scientists and engineers at the time. In fact, despite the speed of change and adoption we face today, the changes we experienced 50 years ago remain unprecedented – and forever life-altering. The emergence of categories like consumer electronics and enterprise computing systems point directly to this moment in time. Companies like Intel, Boeing and IBM grew, at least in part, because of the space program.

We can sometimes take the wealth technology products and services we use every day for granted. And it’s easy to point a finger and take aim at companies for misusing our data or influencing government policy, but we are responsible for their growth and power. Our insatiable hunger to get to the moon 50 years ago had a profound, everlasting impact on our world. We have adapted and evolved, welcoming new technology into our homes, cars and businesses.

And we will continue to trust and evolve, despite our occasional concerns and demands for regulation, because that is human nature. As Michael Collins said, it’s “amazing how quickly you adapt – why, it doesn’t seem weird at all to me to look out there and see the moon going by, you know?”

Interested in learning how technology companies can make an impact in an age of increased techlash? Find out how in our latest technology report, “From Darlings to Damaged.”