What We Get Wrong About Technology

What we get wrong about technology boils down to two things. The first is that simple, cheap and pervasive – and often near-invisible – technologies have more transformational power than things which are more obviously new and shiny; affordability beats complexity.Β The second mistake is to think that the impact of a new technology is driven by its technical availability, when the key date is its transition to economic and social availability, with lags which are sometimes very short but which can be very long indeed. This essay draws on examples from the invention of printing onwards to make the point that we might need to look in less obvious places for the technologies which will drive the next round of change.

All of that’s another way of putting the thought pithily expressed by Roy Amara:

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Tim Harford – The Undercover Economist

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