Friday, June 26, 2009

From left field: the unpredictable impacts of innovations. And of deaths.

Every now and then a monumental event occurs, or a seemingly innocuous innovation enters human society which then dramatically alters its configuration, power structure, processes, communication and a whole lot else. It's hard to tell after the passage of many years how dramatic the impact was, but we live in a time when many such events occur.

The impact of the world wide web has not only been well-researched, it has been experienced all over the world. The web caused a very rapid, nearly discontinuous change in the way the peoples of the world generate exchange and absorb information. Many predictions about the world made before 1990 are practically worthless -- or change happened much, much earlier than may have been anticipated.

The digitization of music followed by the infrastructure to stream it over the web electronically without the need for permanent recording media like tapes, vinyl records or CDs has rendered the music publishing industry in its current form virtually superfluous. And the same impact is beginning to be felt in the book publishing business -- ironically, after, rather than before the music business, although text and graphics were available on the net much before music was.

And now, the Apple iPhone. According to one report, within a week of the introduction of the iPhone GS which is capable of recording video, there has been an incredible 400% surge in YouTube video uploads. Why? The iPhone makes it trivial not only to record, but also to edit and directly upload video from the phone, eliminating the intermediate step of transferring video to a computer, editing it there, and uploading it.

Again and again we see that one of the most common ways in which innovations transforming existing structures and processes is by eliminating intermediaries or intermediate steps. Telephones, email, personal vehicles, personal computers, TV ...

Forecasting is a chancy game in these times; most forecasters end up looking foolish, eventually. Who knew how popular was Michael Jackson? His untimely death is almost bringing down the internet with people communicating their grief, sharing stories and songs and celebrating his life.

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