Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On the slow diffusion of technology

I've often wondered why it takes so long for new technologies to mix with others. We had the telephone for a very long time before we got answering machines, for example.  Today I think I've figured out a bit of it.

It's my theory that it's the young people who come up with innovations, but they generally don't get them built because they lack the technical and business chops to do so. They also don't know as well how to discriminate between really good ideas and the random thoughts that occur to us all.  So they sit on some of their ideas for a long time, tweaking them and getting to the essential core over time. As they grow in experience they also become more adept at gathering resources and navigating the world. It is at this point when they can take those ideas they have nurtured, and reify them.

The example that inspired this comes from Thom Robertson, who just released Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator for Windows. In his frequently asked questions...
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Artemis?
A: Long ago, when my buddies and I all had Commodore64s (like, 25 years ago), I had an idea. I could link our computers together and play a game like the Star Trek bridge. One machine would run the simulation and the "main screen". Each other machine would be a bridge station, like Helm, Science, or Weapons. That idea has lain dormant in my brain for a very long time, but recently my muse told me "Make it. Now." So I finally did.
This leads me to suspect a lot of middle aged hackers are going to be coming up with some really cool things over the next few years that they've been thinking about for a long time.

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