It was this evidence of the broadening impact of each successive wave of technology that I talked about in my last ‘card’ on the CIAO website. And it links strongly with BreakingSmart which I am still digesting but which seems to me to develop and refine these simple statistics further. Venkat Rao discusses in his first essay how software (and more specifically Marc Andreessen’s view that ‘software is eating the world’) relates to previous innovations – only two of which, written language and money were ‘soft’ technologies. I will make no attempt to paraphrase the great story told in BreakingSmart, but the point that software (in the form of the internet and the applications which leverage it) is enabling faster and broader impact across the globe.
And I think it is interesting to compare this to previous such revolutions – take electricity for example.The focus is inevitably on the pure technology in the beginning. Punch in 1848 has this to say:
LIGHTS! LIGHTS! I SAY!
INSTEAD of there being the slightest chance that wonders will ever cease, we have strong reasons for thinking that wonders have only just begun. The last new marvel is a Company for lighting our streets, our shops, our houses, and even our bed-candlesticks with electric fluid, so that we may sit, and read or write by flashes of lightning, and go to sleep with a column of electric fluid doing duty for a rushlight in our room. The new lights that have sprung up within the last few years have been extinguishing and snuffing each other out in rapid succession. The first breath of science blew out the dips, which fell prostrate under the wand of discovery, and then came the metallic wicks, offering “metal more attractive” than the cotton, of whose existence ingenuity has at last cut the thread. Chemistry then took the candles in hand and superseded with the composite fashion the once popular “mould of form,” until the public, having noted the presence of arsenic, stopped its nostrils and its patronage. The electric light now threatens to supersede all, and considering the universal use now made of electricity, we should not be surprised at the formation of a Company to fix a lightning conductor instead of the ordinary conductor to every omnibus.
Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1848
What is blindingly clear from this is just how difficult it was in 1848 to predict what and how electricity would do to promote growth and change. Instead the focus is on how it changes the ‘how’ of every day activities. There is no reference to the ability of the technology to create entirely new industries (both in power generation and in the application of electricity) nor of the dependence that electricity would increasingly provoke as it became a ubiquitous utility. Thinking about the digital universe we seem to be not much further than our own 1848 position now – in KPCB Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2015 she says “Whilst consumer internet entrepreneurs often pursue personal passion, ‘Enterprise’ internet entrepreneurs often pursue prior company pain points’ and we in the corporate world still seem to be seeking in many ways to deal with the issues of today or even the past, rather than the opportunities of the future. As a result there sometimes seems to be an increasing divide between the new opportunistic talent and a corporate rear-guard.
But as electricity shows us the two either marry up, or the former outstrips the other – giving rise to the next step change in growth.