‘Pushing to the edge’ is the most significant tech trend no one ever heard of.

Judy Shapiro

Judy Shapiro

Editor-in-Chief at The Trust Web Times
Judy Shapiro

Judy Shapiro

Editor-in-Chief at The Trust Web Times

There is no lack of people who prognosticate about the next big tech thing. Some are interested in tech innovation. Others are focused on catching the next big thing for financial gain. Still, others in corporate offices worldwide obsess about the next big thing to ensure they are not disrupted into oblivion. The amount of time, energy, and money chasing tech trends probably eclipse the combined revenue of many tech firms listed on NASDAQ.

Amidst all this intellectual digging, it is easy to get lost in the tech of the day; zero party data, Web 3, NFTs, AI anything, and predictive everything.  

Instead, stand back from the buzz for a moment, and with the perspective of distance, a clear tech trend comes into sharp focus. Ironically, I am not describing a new trend per se but a tech dynamic that has been animating technology for the past 35 years.

To pinpoint the birth of this foundational tech trend, let’s take a quick trip back to the 1980s when telecommunications networking was expanding dramatically with phone service moving into every community. Before the 1980s, phone service was unavailable in many places due to sizeable coverage gaps.  

While businesses had phone lines, many U.S. households did not have private lines at all. Some may have had party lines; (a telephone line shared by multiple subscribers where each subscriber has their own telephone but would share a line with other subscribers) but most homes in rural America had no phone whatsoever.

There were no phones in hotel guest rooms – only in the front office.

There were no payphones on the streets or in many restaurants.

All this changed during the second half of the 1980s. This was when the telecommunications industry started to; “push technology to the edge.”

Technically, this meant they created a distributed technology architecture in which services were processed at the network’s periphery, as close to the originating source as possible. Pushing telecommunications to the edge was game-changing because it meant no more party lines, homes in rural counties could get phone service, hotel guests had phones in their rooms, and you could find a payphone on many street corners in the country.

Why Superman Used a Phone Booth - Common Reader
Public Phone Booth in 1980s

Pushing technology to the edge became the bedrock of how telecommunications and networking tech evolved. It was so fundamental that it became deeply embedded in the essence of all tech of the 1980s.

By the 1990s, the concept expanded to refer to any tech that used to be centrally managed (by large corporations or central organizations) but was reconfigured so “Judy Consumer” could apply the technology easily in her own life.

Examples of this type of tech push to the edge in early days abound; Corporate AUDIX mailbox systems became consumer answering machines, and wireless networks became mobile phones. And of course, the famous tech edge use case was when computers became personal computers.

You can be forgiven if you missed this powerful tech trend, as it has been quietly sculpting tech for nearly four decades without much fanfare. It is also profoundly shaping how tech is transforming right now.

Here are six broad areas that are being shaped by the architecture of pushing tech to the edge:

1) Artificial Intelligence that individuals can train for their own uses like chatbot or digital agents. They won’t have names like Siri or Alexa because no company will “interpret” what you mean to your chatbot. The better you train your agent – the better it will know you with no intermediary.

2) No code software, so programming is available to anyone to create personal application suited to their specific use case. No software licenses needed.

3) Home medical testing and diagnosis revolution that will convert a lot of medical care to become self-care.

4) Data management gets personal and private again because people control their own data without the data brokers middlemen.

5) Digital advertising will become a “pull” system instead of the current “push” system. If, for instance, you want vacation promotions from specific brands, you will be able to tell them.

6) DeFi (Decentralized Finance) makes direct connections between payer and payee. This will cut out the many hands that are needlessly part of financial transactions.

As noteworthy as these macro trends are, it is equally noteworthy in what does not make this list. You won’t see any Web3 or blockchain or quantum computing, or even augmented reality tech because these all still rely on a cascading tech distribution model – from a centralized source (such as a commercial company) to consumers. Ultimately the litmus test to know if a tech is pushing an edge is to assess whether the tech is acquired, activated, managed, and controlled by end-users.

The next time someone says you pushed the edge – take it as the compliment it really is.

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