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Railroads to Computers – The Power of Change

We live in a time of exciting technological innovation. A time in which each of us carries around a phone with a processor orders of magnitude more powerful than that used to send people to the moon. And it all started with the humble rail road.

Rail roads were the linchpin of the Industrial Revolution, exposing the public at large to the technological breakthroughs otherwise only visible to those working in manufacturing and agriculture. By transforming and creating many areas of infrastructure, few could escape the fact that the world had forever changed. In much the same way, modern computer systems have radically affected our personal and professional lives today.

Trains drastically reduced the cost of travel, thereby expanding the liveable area of city workers and creating the possibility of suburbs. This in turn provided a wealth of data for analysis of efficiency and profitability of the fledgling technology. Today, we exploit technological advances to not only generate this data but to leverage it in an ever-expanding variety of ways.

A significant paradigm shift was required to accurately assess the success of rail road operations: the standardization of time. Train timetables enforced that time be regulated across all of England and the answer was Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), the standard used globally to this day. The internet, too, has revolutionized our idea of time. By allowing us to communicate instantly with those halfway across the globe, it has necessitated the coordination of businesses worldwide to remain competitive.

What I consider the most important effect, however, is the fundamental outlook with which change is approached by people. There are countless magazines and journals that look in wide-eyed wonder at how the innovations of today could change the world of tomorrow. Change itself is seen as synonymous with progress when before the Industrial Revolution and, in particular, railroads, it was likely met with trepidation.

Change could relate to the failure of crops or a devastating epidemic, antitheses to the idea of progress. Technology has inculcated in us the idea that change means improvement and advancement. To be guided by this principle is to weigh decisions with a sense of optimism, safe in the knowledge that the world can only move forward, driven, as it has been for over a century, by the power of the rail road.

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