After nearly two weeks, Comcast came by and installed my Internet, along with my cable. During that time, I became reliant on staying at coffee shops until they closed, setting up camp at the student union, and trying to guess the password for networks that I picked up in my apartment building. My productivity was limited, both by time and geography.
On its surface, this isn’t a new topic. We’ve all made the observation before that we’re incredibly dependent on technology nowadays. If you haven’t, ask a friend to keep your cell phone for a weekend and you’ll see.
Interestingly, new technologies usually made things easier, faster, and/or better; a tractor, for example, was a much more productive tool than an ox pulling a plow. The difference between what I’ll call “old technology” and “today’s technology” is that if the tractor break, you could always immediately turn to your ox and still get done what you need to get done. With something like the Internet or cell phone though, if you don’t have that, then you’re stuck since the alternatives are either nonexistent, been phased out, or unpractical. Old technology served as an upgrade or improvement over what we were currently using; today’s technology is almost an island of equipment that has completely separated itself from what previously stood.
Another example that comes to mind is Netflix: it was great that we could just set up a queue online and wait for our movies to come in the mail. It was so successful that places like Blockbusters were forced to file for bankruptcy. Suddenly, what happened when I wanted a movie tonight to watch with friends and there was no store down the street to drive to? Well, we were stuck either not renting a movie or huddling around a laptop.
Recently though, Redbox machines, which are essentially vending machines for DVDs, have emerged. Now, on a moment’s notice, I can head down to the local pharmacy and peruse the choices, a cost-efficient rethinking of your local video store.
Being the free-market, capitalist thinkers that we are, do we think there are other instances where our innovation has skipped a step in between the last product and the new one? Can anyone think of any other examples of a convenience that had previously vanished because its enhanced version was so popular, but then another version to bridge the gap between the two has also entered the marketplace?
To me, it's the beauty of capitalism: it finds a way to correct itself, even if it means slowing down a bit.