An exercise in dealing with new technologies

Recent history is filled with examples of people being skeptical about how important cars, the TV, the internet and mobile would eventually become.

A famous piece written by Clifford Stol, in 95:

Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.

Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.

Innovation usually follows similar patterns of adoption. The emerging technologies often create new markets, so anything 10x different than the current solution won't always be applicable to the market in its current state, but in insignificant markets that compound and grow fast.

Understanding how people repeatedly welcomed bold ideas that eventually became the status quo could increase your chances of spotting some of the same patterns, even without the luxury of hindsight.

But books and articles are often lagging and anecdotal.

You want to get a first-hand experience of the subject.

What can you do?

Time-boxed play time

Pick a technology that is hyped right now, but you don't understand exactly why.

Spend a fixed period of time (I do between one and two months) deep-diving into the early adopter community. Read the niched blogs, listen to podcasts and sign up for the forums.

Play with the new inventions. Try and defend them, then try to tear them down. Resist the temptation to write anything off.

Study how active the community behind it is. Are there only people looking to cash in for the money, or is it something deeper that is driving them?

Look at the ideology behind the change in state: do you see a future where some version of this might be true, even if the current solution is not good enough? Is the ideology behind it wrong, or is it just a case of it not being ready?

Emerging technologies often have a component of "being at the right time". How fast is the world around it advancing and what is the trending direction? Is any sub-component of the technology undergoing a state change as well?

What about the economy? How is the government managing change and risk? Is the new technology touching any existing big government sectors? What can accelerate and grind to a halt adoption through that perspective?

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