Coping with faster rates of change


It became a cliche decades ago to say that the future was speeding up. Many of my friends talk about life rushing by. Many people feel the pressure to upgrade their phones every year. Perhaps responding almost daily to technology change adds to that sense of rushing, and perhaps it also is just a symptom of change happening more frequently around us. Back in the early eighties you got very good deals on upgrading. Companies gave huge discounts on new hardware and seem to acknowledge in those days that, if you bought a computer, you would be expecting it to last 5 to 10 years before you bought another one. That soon changed. As the generation of my parents gave way to the more tech-savvy Generation Y, expectations were changed (and lowered) and now there is little reward for upgrading quickly other than the chance to queue all night outside a tech store to be “one of the first”. No discounts for compensation for upgrading. Well, there are discounts but these are often factored into clever pricing from the start.

So, you buy a phone and the next model will be along within months loaded with advertising that suggests you are out of touch and uncool. Interestingly some of the biggest corporations have begun to be caught out by their own pace of innovation and product launch. Apple still offers its older phone model alongside the new one, as it does with its Tablet. Not everyone is up for buying a brand new phone every year and now older models are competing alongside newer ones and the second hand market is growing all the time.

But that doesn’t seem to be slowing the pace of change down that much, if at all. As soon as the Iphone 6 is out, the digital commentators and news pundits are already “leaking” clues of the “7”. This can be fun, part of an excitement about innovation and an enthusiasm for technology and what it can offer. It can also become compulsive, needy, addictive and then it is about getting the next “hit”. When people get into serious debt, often a debt counselor will uncover just how entangled a person or a family has become with digital gadgets and gizmos. Celebrating the digital realm and delighting in it can be part of life’s excitement and authentic enjoyment; being compulsively addicted to it can harm your life, your relationships, and your bank balance.

For people from older generations, and even from younger souls trying to get on the property ladder or make their salary stretch to the month, it can be disheartening and anxiety-creating to always feel you are one model behind the mainstream and two behind the leading edge. We then see our digital gadgets as things that have as much pull on our pockets as those spoilt kids who bought every chocolate bar they could to win a Golden Ticket to Willie Wonka’s factory. We end up aching for the latest gizmo.

That ache can be felt most keenly by parents whose kids benchmark themselves in the classroom against what other kids have got, then emotionally bullying and badgering their mom and pop to cough up the cash. It was ever thus but never so expensive as five hundred pounds for a gadget (and that’s just the smartphone, what about the gaming device and the tablet?).

The parents relent, stump up the cash, breathe a sigh of relief and, in less than a few breaths, the next model is banging relentlessly on the front door. “You’re kids are already put of date”.

It can be tough to deal with that pressure. It can create a kind of underlying angst in the family, and every advert we see online or on TV, on ad hoardings in the street, or via the grapevine, reminds us that we are riding a wave and will thrown off it if we don’t keep up. Keeping up means paying up.

Smart watches are next and suddenly we are all health obsessed needing heart rate monitors and pedometers wherever we go. Of course, this “need” has been cooked up and pushed by corporations and tired out families collude and buy into the myths to stay on the main wave. And now everyone “needs” a smart watch. Wearables, apparently are a “need”.

Is there really a need to always be buying and owning whatever the tech space hurls at us?

There’s a interesting warning from history. Look at these quotes…

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”
–Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
–Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

“I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and walked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.”
–The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

“But what … is it good for?”
–Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM,1968, commenting on the microchip.

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
–Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
–Western Union internal memo, 1876.

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
–David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.

The digital realm has overwhelmed many of us, surprised even some of the most prominent thinkers and futurists in terms of how fast and massive its impact has been.

It is all too easy to suggest that what the innovation realm is throwing at us is not needed. But what is different from those times is the sheer pace of change, combined with the pressures from corporations to deliver double digit growth to their shareholders. Innovation is no longer then a wave in itself, but instead is something that rides on another wave, carried along by it. Innovation as a pattern in culture then fixes like a surfer, moving on the wave, but never away from it. And that wave is growth, with proft and market share maximisation driving the wave onwards. Then it is no longer about innnovation meeting needs and inspiring needs – the needs of real people who exist in families all over the world. Innovation then becomes a tool for commerce, even for greed. And then we don’t always need the next magical gizmo, it is the corporation who needs us to need it.

And that’s when the digital realm becomes an inferno and we can kept utterly swept up in its forces, even burned and destroyed by it

So, how do we cope with all of this? The people I have met in recent years who are positively engaging with the digital realm have a certain resilience. They do not upgrade, like an addict, for the sake of upgrading. They upgrade when they have got themselves clued up about what is on offer and they make very conscious choices about how an upgrade will really meet their needs. They are not fascinated by gadgetry but rather enthused by it. They celebrate this onrushing wave of innovation and newness but that doesn’t mean they unquestioningly surrender to it. many have a phone or tablet replacement cycle of 2 to 3 years, not 1.

Often they take their time before making a purchasing decision and are interested in the real life stories of how other people have used new technologies before they commit themselves. I notice that many also have a real note pad and pen in their bags alongside the latest tablet PC. They blend physical and digital. It isn’t a choice between one or the other.

Occasionally they ride right at the front of the wave and delight in trying out something right at the new end of new. Often that is based , not on digital hunger and addiciion, but on a spirit of experimentation and adventure.

Embracing the increasing rate of change with a mix of mindfulness and adventure seems to be the way forward. But we aren’t out of touch if we don’t upgrade every time. Actually we are more in touch – with our real needs, the true story of our life.

About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on November 26, 2014, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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