Technology shifted the world, in two photos and one lesson

I’m attending this conference for work right now, and yesterday Niall McKeown of Ionology gave a presentation. It was kind of general “strategy vs. digital strategy” stuff — although people often have no idea what strategy is — but he had a few interesting anecdotes along the way, some of which I had never seen before. For example, a story about the rapid increase in usage of technology as told through the Vatican.

Here’s an original “viral” post from NBC News in 2013. Purportedly, this is in 2005 when Pope John Paul III was carried into the Basilica for public viewing:

2005 Papal Viewing

Note the general lack of phones/technology aside from the one or two flip phones (one in the lower right corner).

Now here’s a picture of Pope Francis’ inaugural appearance on the balcony:

2013 Papal Viewing

Notice a difference?

That’s a scant eight years apart, so people often hold this example up in terms of “How fast technology is moving.” Visually, it’s a good one.

However, here’s the flip side of how fast technology is moving — you can’t always believe everything straight on face, because people are always out there publishing things.

When these photos first came out, they were somewhat devoid of context — the initial tweet was:

In reality, you’re somewhat comparing apples and oranges — the top image is related to a funeral, when less people have camera phones out anyway, and the bottom image is related to an initial appearance, which is a more joyous occasion. Remember, context is everything. That’s why I named this blog what I did, even though it’s probably shitty for SEO.

Now, here’s a photo from 2005 — after the death of John Paul — when Pope Benedict was elected:

2005 Pope Benedict Election

You can see there’s a lot of cameras, one or two camcorders, and a few flip phones. It’s definitely not the 2013 picture, no. But it’s not exactly the same as the initial comparison either. But remember — at the time of this 2005 papal election, the first-iteration iPhone hadn’t even been released yet.

Broader point being: technology has come a very long way in a very short time, and that’s hard to argue with. But in terms of comparison moments to encapsulate it, everything needs a dose of context.

Ted Bauer