When I was a kid, I lived near a rural intersection of four roads. Way before the age of GPS and Google Maps, and well beneath the resolution of the average gas station road map portraying highways but not many by-ways, drivers were often compelled to stop when they saw me in the yard, and ask for directions.
My dad had instilled in me a good sense of direction, honed by riding shotgun on his truck. He also taught me to read maps, allowing me to navigate the family on a vacation to Georgia at the age of seven using a pile of those gas station road maps. I also ventured out on innumerable walks through the fields and forests around the house, learning the paths through hundreds of acres without any compass. I became a reliable source of local information, even at a young age, but it still seems remarkable that lost adults would stop by a road and ask a kid for guidance.
I met a lot of nameless people by the side of that intersection. The instructions they needed were usually pretty simple. That road goes about 1/2 a mile to Churchtown, and there isn’t much there but a church, cemetery, and a firehouse. That road goes to Claverack, where there is a corner store, post office, and a couple gas stations and payphones, and from there you can get to Hudson, Philmont, or Albany. That road goes to Glenco Mills and Taghkanic, where you can pick up the Parkway and get back to New York. That road goes to Bells Pond, then on to either Catskill or Red Hook and beyond.
One day, a man and wife from Washington state stopped. He told me he went to school in my grandmother’s house next door, and wanted permission to walk around. That explained a lot, like why we had found antique wooden school desks in the attic, one of which I still have. He said something very odd as he snapped pictures: “The house used to be down there,” pointing toward the road he remembered running behind his school.
There was just no way, but I just nodded and didn’t rain on his childhood memory. The house was set up on a bit of a hill, and between the house and the road were large mature trees, too large for something as big as a house to have circumnavigated in recent history. But there were clues. Behind the house was a large concrete coal bin, facing a flat depression which ran across the entire yard and our neighboring yard. Both always seemed a bit out of place, like they had outlived their usefulness somehow.
Many years later, I was finally able to afford a book capturing the history of the county. In it, I discovered that depression used to be the road, before the county macadamed the newer road out front in a new right-of-way to avoid a change in property lines. The old road, which really was only an unpaved wagon path, was abandoned completely.
I’m reminded of this as I head to #2013CES, where we are seeing a huge change powered by mobile and social technology. The instructions to move ahead are getting more complicated every day. Microsoft is “out”, and yet will be everywhere at the show. Ditto for Apple. Samsung and Qualcomm will be very visible. It will be very interesting to see how Nokia, Motorola, and RIM represent themselves. Connected cars and the Internet of Things are sure to be huge topics. I’m actually looking forward to spending quality time in the TechZones.
Just when you think you know the neighborhood, you find out people are building new roads bypassing the one you are on. In a world of new possibilities, exactly which technologies are able to blaze a new trail is yet to be seen. I’m just happy to still be on the ride, looking out the windshield at what’s ahead. If you’re in Vegas this week, let’s talk.