Posted by: rolfsky | June 18, 2007

the deception in rate of change

The other morning I fell backwards into the past. Stopping to wait for a red light while on foot, I gazed down the long line of houses in my 1950’s-era neighborhood. Silicon Valley has treated this neighborhood well and the homes appear to be clipped, trimmed and painted so that they might resemble how they looked a little over fifty years ago when they were built. With few modern cars on the street, it was easy to see how little had changed.

Turning around to wait for my signal, modern vehicles sped past me in gleaming paint. From my little time warp back to 1954, these cars looked new and modern and sleek with very black tires. For a second I glimpsed the future, which is really today. Some things change quickly, some stick around for longer.

Which brings me to a thought about technology and how often futurists are wrong. Scouring the newest news headlines they pull inventions and discoveries off the shelf, hold them up, and proclaim that fresh dinners will be delivered to every home by pneumatic tubes. The problem with hedging your bets on the current trends is that rarely if ever does human nature get factored into the equation. We become enamored with a technology because it is different than existing technology without asking whether it is better for all parties involved. Also, the predictions we make are almost unilaterally in attempt to solve the problems of today with the technology of the future.

Also, we forget that there are a lot of durable things that will still be around 50, 100 and 200 years from now. These pieces will make up the structure upon which we build everything around us. My 1950’s neighborhood is still largely intact, and New York will continue to look like New York for a long time to come.

However, in internet time there are fewer durable things. Computers are obsoleted every 18 months, software renews itself every year, and the Web is constantly evolving. What then, can we cling to?

The users. We know who they are. We know what they want. (They’re not going anywhere.)


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