This month marks the beginning of my 20th year of writing about lenses and technology for 20/20 and Vision Monday. Milestone anniversaries are a good time to take stock of where we’ve been and where we’ve been going, and I’ve been thinking about the many changes in our industry since 1987.

I wonder what an optician who retired two decades ago would think if he or she stepped into a dispensary and in-office lab today? At first glance, it might look comfortingly familiar: frame boards filled with product, a dispensing table with a mirror and mat, and drawers filled with lenses, a few displays.

But a closer look would reveal some major changes. Then the questions would start. Why are there so many small frames, they might ask. And what about all those colorful plastics and metals? And what’s memory metal? And titanium frames?

A look inside the lens drawer might be even more unsettling. Where did all the glass lenses go? Where are my Photograys? What are all these numbered lenses like 1.60 and 1.67? Why are there so many progressive lenses? What the heck is Transitions? Trivex?

But the in-office lab might be the most shocking. The biggest change would be the absence of the pattern board. How can you possibly cut lenses without a pattern?

Pattern making technology was just being introduced in 1987. The idea of making a pattern for each frame, as opposed to the manufacturer supplying the pattern, was a big departure from the way things had been done for years.

The next step, patternless edging, was even more radical. It changed the process of edging a lens from more of an art into a more of a science. More recent advances in patternless-edging systems such as the incorporation of automated lensometry and autoblocking, as well as drilling and buffing have further refined the science.

Yet in some ways, the technology has brought us full-circle. Today’s state-of-the-art, in-office edging systems help opticians and lab techs produce eyewear more creatively than ever before. The art has returned. This is something our pre-1987 optician would certainly understand and appreciate.

Andrew Karp,