Wk 1 Act 3 – The first rule of Technology

This activity refers to :

Thanks, Gutenberg – but we’re too pressed for time to read

In this article John Naughton quotes the first law of technology as “we invariably overestimate the short-term impact of new technologies while underestimating their longer-term effects” This was followed by a brief history of guttenbergs printing press and a quote from Sebastian Brandt in 1500 “There is nothing nowadays that our children. . . fail to know.” Although this is given as an example of overestimating the short term impact of new technologies, i feel it is a rather poor example.  Although children would not know everything because of the printing press, the article admits that the printing press had an extraordinary short term impact and I take the quote to be an understandable exaggeration of the truth rather than overestimating.  It could be said that the boom and bust period of dot com companies is an example of overestimating the short term impact of new technologies, although I feel this is an over simplification and that period was necessary in the evolution of the Internet.

The second part of the law “underestimating their longer-term effects” is clearly illustrated in the article by linking the Gutenberg press to redefining what is meant by childhood.  There are a number of famous quotes which illustrate how the long term effects of technology have been underestimated:
“I think there is a world market for as many as 5 computers.” – Thomas Watson, head of IBM,1943.
“One day there will be a telephone in every major city in the USA” – Alexander Graham Bell, c.1880
“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” H.M. Warner, Warner Bros, 1927.
“Aircraft are interesting toys, but of no military value.” – Marshal Foch, France, 1912.
“Television won’t be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” – Darryl F Zanuck, 1946.
“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons” – Popular Mechanics, 1949.
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” – Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

Although interesting and amusing to view, I think there is a danger in relying on quotes to support this rule as you can find equally amusing assumptions  which over estimate the impact of technology such as the following taken from “Will life be worth living in 2000AD?” (http://www.pixelmatic.com.au/2000/) a magazine article originally published in 1961:

“you will think nothing of taking a fortnight’s holiday in outer space.”
“Rocket belts will increase a man’s stride to 30 feet, and bus-type helicopters will travel along crowded air skyways. ”
“Medically induced growth of amputated limbs will be possible. ”

A recent report from OFSTED  (www.ofsted.gov.uk/content/download/8797/95679/file/VLE%20an%20evaluation%20of%20their%20development.pdf) sugest the short term impact of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) has been over estimated.  It states that VLEs were introduced in their current form around 2000. Although the majority of learning providers contacted had a VLE, their use was not widespread and exploitation of VLEs remained “more of a cottage industry than a national technical revolution”


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