Does the real world Impact of Technology decrease over time?
A hundred years ago, the changes in technology for cars where by magnitude per decade. The doubled speed and power, reach and affordability. For the first forty or so years this is, it is amazing how this technology developed. But also the impact these developments had on their environment: double the speed meant crossing the country in days instead of weeks, suddenly you could supply the other part of the country with fresh products, which would get bad on long journeys. But if you think back the last, say three decades, what really has changed in automobile technology? Well, actually, a lot: cars got more efficient, a car from 1980 wouldn’t stand a chance compared to a car from today. But how much impact did this development have? Almost none actually.
The entry level car still requires roughly the same amount of money from the person it did thirty years ago, the levels of cars are tied to their customer base and the efficiency mostly went into making it more comfy. Still my parents were able to travel across Europe with their car back thirty years ago, than as I am now. And the time it took them maybe differs by percent but most definitely not by magnitude compared to today. Though engines got at least twice as efficient and pavements last at least four times what they did back then.
The same goes for the telephone. When it first came out, its impact was tremendous. And though the pace of development in telecommunications didn’t decrease but if anything feels to run faster than ever before: just think about the step from cell phone to Smartphone to Apps-for-everything. And if you look at developing countries and how mobile cell phone coverage changes the landscape – literally – you understand what I am talking about. It is quite a leap forward. And so are Apps and mobile computing. As a technology. But is it the same for the people using them? Does it really make much of a difference that it runs twice as many Apps twice as fast? Though this is a magnitude better, is this also doubling the actual impact on people lives? I don’t think it is.
And if not anymore, I am wondering, when did this happen. What was the technology leap that didn’t increase the impact on peoples on the same magnitude anymore? And if we could graph this net impact out, what does this graph look like? I’d say, it is most likely a curve, running logarithmic and easing out. How else could you explain why development continues and even gets stronger if arguably the net impact doesn’t evolve anymore. And what if we’d actually take these efforts, we put into those last 10% of making a technology more comfortable and instead put them towards developing another technology which still has higher potential? Wouldn’t we evolve faster and impact more people?
Thanks to Recuerdos de Pandora for releasing this great picture of Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla under Creative Commons.