Space Invaders nostalgia vs ‘progress’

Now that the New Year is just about in full swing, this is probably my last chance to reminisce about Christmas. 

For the month of December I was popping into my garage every evening to hack together a retro 1980s arcade machine, built from some MDF, an old computer monitor, and at the heart of it, a Raspberry Pi computer. Needless to say it tested my carpentry and electronic skills but I managed to pull it off and introduce my kids to some real classics like Space Invaders, and my own personal favourite, Bubble Bobble.

This project was clearly driven by nostalgia from a man in his early 40s harking back to the '80s and I won't pretend otherwise. However, I also think something else was going on, related to our old friend, Moore's law. As any good technologist knows, computer power has, and is predicted to grow exponentially. This is because the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits has doubled every year since their invention. But is Moore's law being driven by demand for more power, or simply because we can do it?

When it comes to computer games, manufacturers and developers have taken full advantage of this exponential capability and almost every Christmas there's a new offering made possible by this digital horse power. We're now for example seeing really credible VR solutions which are affordable, and on the verge of mainstream gaming.

All very exciting of course, but was my trip back to the 80s, also partly to do with the fact that we might actually not need all that processing power, and that what we value (in this case game play) is potentially more important than the treadmill of 'progress' that underpins the technology industry. Clearly if new technologies are not invented, then we don't progress, that's not my point, I'd hate to see some dark age of computing.

My question is that, in some areas, do we need to progress and are we being driven by progress, for the sake of progress, rather than for the right reasons or values?

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About the author

Given a Sinclair ZX81 computer when he was 8 years old, Tom has grown up with IT, but went on to become a brand manager for a snack company and then complete a PhD in sociology. As a consultant at Deloitte he worked with over 40 different IT organisations on how they can provide more business value and is now using this diverse range of experiences to help create Modern Waitrose as Head Engagement & IT Planning. The views in this blog are entirely his own.

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