Watching All the President’s Men staring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford is a journey back into a technology time capsule. It is truly amazing to think how far we have come technology-wise in one generation.
Made in 1976, All the President’s Men is the gripping story of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bertstein and the Watergate Scandal that forced the resignation of President Richard Nixon. I think we fail to fully appreciate how instantaneous information has become until we watch a movie like this.
In one seen, Woodward (played by Robert Redford) is searching for any clues to a man named Kenneth H. Dahlberg. This name was found on a check deposited into the bank account of one of the Watergate burglers. Woodward is seen surrounded by piles of telephone directories for various cities. He is manually looking through each directory to see if Dahlberg’s name happens to be listed.
At one point, a research assistant walks in and informs Woodward that there is no record of Dahlberg in any news clippings, but she did find one photograph caption with him. She hands Woodward the news photograph. In the caption, it states Dahlberg is receiving an award from Hubert Humphrey. Knowing Humphrey is from Minnesota, Woodward quickly finds the telephone directory for the city of Minneapolis, flips the pages to the H’s and locates an address and phone number for Kenneth H. Dahlberg.
Think about this for a minute: this scene in the movie lasts a couple of minutes, yet obviously represents a considerable amount of time Woodward had to search for Dahlberg’s name in the haystack. Yet, in the time the scene plays in the movie, I could reach for my phone, enter in a search phrase in Google, and have instant access to the information. In fact, it took me less than 15 seconds to find the same photograph.
Yes, the story is gripping. From a historical perspective, it is fascinating to watch a government self-destruct over such a foolish thing. Yet, what is even more amazing to me is the reality of how far we have come with information technology in the 40 years since this movie was made.
For example, here are just some of the differences I observed:
- No cell phones
- Public phone booths
- Analog dial phones
- No computers, only typewriters
- No mini-recording devices
- All notes handwritten
- Limited television news
- All research is library-based
- Copy machines the size of refrigerators
- No fax machines
As we reflect on our use of technology, it is easy to see how convenient our life has become because of technology. If there is one lingering doubt, however, it is how much more complex our life has become because of technology.