Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Brainless Forecasting: Remembering the Telephone

One of the lessons of the current recession is that we are, more often than not, just plain clueless when it comes to forecasting our economic future.  And it’s not for a lack of trying.  We give the smartest people in America reams of market data, we create marvelously complex forecasting models, and we end up with vastly conflicting, generally misguided points of view.

More than that, we completely miss the Big Events--the current recession being a good example.

It is the American condition, however, that being bad at something doesn’t stop us from doing it, and doing it enthusiastically.

With this in mind, I’ve been watching the swirl over Twitter, Facebook, the future of search, Second Life, radio, the music industry, the electric automobile, and television.  Not only is the debate about our technology future downright confusing, it’s downright nasty.  Technology has become our new religion, our new politics.  To say you support “open source” in certain cocktail settings is like saying you would like to see a socialist President, or suggesting that only Christians can get into heaven.  It’s brutal out there.

This is what I was thinking as I read Ithiel de Sola Pool’s 1977 The Social Impact of the Phone.  In particular, one chapter examines all of the forecasts made about the telephone from 1876 to WWII.  It's a good reminder that we—all of us, worldwide and over time--are really, truly are bad at this forecasting stuff.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Kindle Meets the Kodak Brownie

One of the great consumer products of the twentieth century was the Kodak Brownie camera. It premiered in February 1900, cost one dollar, and did for picture-taking what the Model T would soon do for American driving. 

When I was very young I owned a Brownie Bullet, purchased for a special family visit to the New York World’s Fair in Queens in 1965.  I adored that camera, even after I dropped it on the ground near the Westinghouse Time Capsule, cracked its case, and took another three years of pictures with a sun streak down the right side of every print.

So, the other day when I accidentally dropped my Kindle 2 (to no great effect, fortunately), the Brownie flashed before my eyes.