Strategies & Tactics

The Future Shock of 1994

June 1, 2018

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[shutterstock]

Welcome to our issue on disruption — and the future.

On Page 12, Stephen Dupont, APR, looks ahead to 2030, and provides insights on how to remain relevant in a profession that’s quickly evolving, thanks, in part, to changes related to technological innovation and consumer behavior.

The process of looking ahead prompted me to look back — to 1994 when I first started at PRSA. At that time, 24 years ago, I called friends and family from my landline, a phone featuring a built-in answering machine. I watched movies that I rented from Blockbuster on a VCR. I walked around carrying a Sony Walkman that played my favorite mixtapes. I didn’t own a computer, though I had access to one at the local library. I called restaurants and ordered food off the menus that they left on my doorstep. (I even had a menu drawer.) I shopped in stores, not those “electronic malls” that I read about in the newspaper.

In the first few months at work in 1994, I used a bulky computer that was part of PRSA’s local area network (LAN). I would craft my articles, writing and revising the pieces through this system. However, I needed to deliver the story to my editor, Adam Shell, who had a Mac, which seemed like such a luxury at the time. Unfortunately, we didn’t have email or even an interoffice messaging system that connected us, so I couldn’t easily share work with Adam.

When I thought an article was ready, I printed it out and waited for another colleague who had a Mac to leave for lunch. I then rekeyed the piece and put it on a floppy disk for Adam.

Meanwhile, articles from our contributors arrived in several formats. Some people mailed or faxed us their transcripts while other writers shipped us their work on floppy disks (which they always wanted back).

Soon enough, I had my own Mac. However, I was still trading plastic diskettes and spending time retyping pieces from our writers. Then, one day, electronic mail entered my work life.

Ready for webmail?

I read about the great promise of email via companies such as America Online, Prodigy and Compuserve, but I had never used one of these services myself. It all seemed so complicated.

In early 1995, Jim Horton, one of our frequent tech writers, visited PRSA’s office to teach us the ways of Compuserve and its Spry Mosaic browser. We set up accounts, featuring addresses with nearly a dozen numbers — something like 768334895.9822212@compuserve.com.

Jim patiently outlined things like the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. The complexity overwhelmed me. I felt stressed out, as if I was living that dream where you only have two minutes to take your SATs. The rest of his two-hour presentation was a blur of phrases like “local mail submission agent.”

After Jim left, I looked over my pages of notes for how to log onto CompuServe. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d never send electronic mail. Anyway, email seemed like a fad — I hardly knew anyone who used it. (My friends didn’t hang out in cyber cafés!)

Of course, all this seems so extraordinarily dated now. I’m sure the way we produced this issue will also seem antiquated in 2030. It will be something to think about on the skyport as I await my flying cab to the office!

John Elsasser

John Elsasser is the publications director of PRSA and the editor in chief of Strategies & Tactics. He joined PRSA in 1994.

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