thenextwave

Back to the future

Posted in innovation, technology by thenextwavefutures on 3 January, 2015

DSCF4650In the last edition of The Guardian of 2014, the writer David Boyle offered two unfashionable propositions about change.

The first: that “we cling to the real world more tightly as the virtual world presses its claims.” Sales of computer tablets are on the slide, he says; sales of e-books are declining; sales of vinyl records are at an 18-year high. And he references the French historian Jean Gimpel, who died almost 20 years ago, who had anticipated the return of many physical technologies that were supposed to be on their way out, from trams, to cycling, to cotton and natural fibres, to cooking. (Says Boyle: “Those Smash robots, which used to fall about laughing at potato peelers, must be rusting with chagrin.”)

Slowing

The second: “despite what we are told, technological change is slowing down.” This is a theme of mine here on the next wave, and there is abundant evidence to suggest that the wave of innovation that spanned my great-grandfathers’ lifetimes was far greater, and had far greater impact on everyday lives, than the one I’ve seen, no matter how insistent the Silicon Valley boosterists are on the subject. (See: Hans Rosling, Robert Gordon, David Graeber, for starters.) And also, come to that, that the wave of globalisation in the late 19th century was far more disruptive than its equivalent phase in the late 20th century.

Dubious factoids

Boyle looks to the transport sector for his example:

I’ve been travelling on Boeing 747s and driving Minis my entire life (I’m 56) … If I was born in 1858 would I still be struggling along in my wagon at New Year 1915? … The notion that technological change is accelerating is based on dubious factoids about the idea that mobile phone penetration into the American market was faster than it was for radio. In reality, the reverse was true.

Of course, the really disruptive technologies of the 20th century were the washing machine and the fridge. And perhaps the vacuum cleaner. And now I need to go and find out more about Jean Gimpel.

Happy New Year!

The image at the top of the post is from Death to the Stock Photo.

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