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© 2006 PJM Consulting
is a GOOD THING. Well, most of the time it is.
I’m sure you’ve seen articles bemoaning the NEGATIVE
role that technology advancement has played in our
lives. I have recently joined the ranks of those doing
GADGETS ARE GREAT
Don’t get me wrong — I’m a tech guy through and through.
I’ve chosen to work in the technology industry for
20 years, and I love gadgets as well as the next guy.
I’ve got TIVO, a laptop, a cell phone, Wi-Fi, all
the standard Hi-Tech fare. I’m an email fanatic. With
great anticipation I’m eyeing Home Theater equipment;
just waiting for prices to drop a little more and
for standards to settle a bit. I love many of the
things that technology does to enrich our personal
lives, and embrace the productivity improvements that
it brings to doing business. And I believe that those
who create new technologies and products ALMOST ALWAYS
have good intentions, from a societal perspective.
THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
But I also believe that the law of unintended consequences
is alive and thriving in the technology marketplace.
In creating products and services that didn’t previously
exist in our world, the good is sometimes offset (and
occasionally overwhelmed) by effects on the negative
side of the ledger.
Take automobiles, for example. Certainly cars are
no longer an example of new technology. But at the
turn of the century, they represented one of the greatest
leaps forward in technology, and have had wide-ranging,
positive societal effects. Autos provided a completely
different level of personal mobility, with too many
positive effects on our daily lives to list. For businesses,
the enhanced business productivity was so enormous
that it not only lowered costs, but also allowed totally
new businesses to be conceived. Autos and the internal
combustion engine that enabled them are truly among
the great inventions of all time.
However, do you think the inventors or the internal
combustion engine and the automobile had the foresight
to envision the amount of pollution this invention
has ultimately created? Not to mention the greenhouse
gas effect, that is actually causing significant warming
to our global climate, with potentially devastating
Of course, they couldn’t. I think this should cause
those of us in the technology biz to pause and reflect
NEGATIVES WITH POSITIVES
There are many more innovations that one could list
having major negatives associated with great leaps
forward. Cell Phones are another such example. They
have provided a leap forward in society that while
not quite as profound as automobiles, approaches the
same level. They’ve provided great productivity gains
for businesses, and have allowed us to stay connected
in our personal lives like never before. But haven’t
they also contributed negatively to our ability to
get away, relax, and enjoy some uninterrupted privacy?
I feel this has been a big negative for society, and
it’s one of those steps that probably can’t be undone.
I think even the most driven Type A’s among us believe
that human beings need at least SOME time to recharge
our batteries. Just to get away from it all and relax.
Technological advancements have connected us to the
extent that it’s very hard to do that. You used to
be able to take a vacation or a day off, and honestly
say you didn’t have a phone or an Internet connection
available. If you say that now, people might begin
to question your veracity. It’s possible to be connected
nearly everywhere — as a result, it becomes less acceptable
than ever be “disconnected”.
This leads to the biggest complaint I have about the
unintended consequences of the technology revolution:
The general speeding up of our lives.
I’m exhausted - I'll bet you are too For context,
most people would consider me a type A personality.
So this isn’t the complaint of some mellow, laid-back
surfer dude. I generally embrace a fast paced life,
and particularly enjoy the ability to make progress
in business in a rapid-fire matter. But honesty compels
me to admit that, at times, the pace of modern life
even overwhelms me.
I live out the most gnawing example of this “Acceleration”
of our lives every day on the freeways of Southern
California. I live in San Diego, which granted is
a big city. And big city traffic has, of course, never
been much fun. But San Diego isn’t New York or Paris
by any stretch of the imagination, when it comes to
congestion, or the attitudes of the locals. So I don’t
think I’m reaching for the extreme here.
Compared to even 10-15 years ago, life on the freeways
has become hell. I am a pretty fast driver, but on
the freeway, it’s never fast enough. No matter how
fast you want to go, there is always someone coming
fast upon you — tailgating and itching to get past
you. And it isn’t enough to just get around you. The
guys in the BMW 3 series have to accelerate and weave
in and out of traffic like it’s the 20th lap at LeMans.
Those guys have always existed on the highway, you
say. And you’re right. But the lack of common sense
and courtesy seems to have spread throughout the driver-sphere
like a bad flu. These days, you try to move into a
lane in front of a soccer mom in a huge SUV at your
own peril. She may be toting two kids in the back,
and of course is talking on her cell phone (those
cell phones again!). But she’s also caught that LeMans
mentality, and no way she’s going to intentionally
concede that position — let alone the extra ten feet
of highway to a “competitor”.
I find it especially ironic how the technology acceleration
has made other pieces of useful technology obsolete.
My favorite is how the speedup on the freeways has
eliminated the need for what was once an essential
piece of safety technology for drivers: the indicator.
It no longer serves a useful purpose on the road.
Should you put your indicator on before changing lanes
in front of that soccer mom? Ten years ago you certainly
should have. But 2005 soccer mom puts the pedal to
the medal and cuts you off to prevent you from “moving
up a spot” in the unofficial Freeway LeMans. These
days, using this once essential technology now only
“indicates” to everyone else that it’s time speed
up to prevent you from making that lane change! God
forbid you need to get to that lane to exit the highway;
that next exit better suffice if you don’t want to
risk a crash. Soccer moms don’t glare at you menacingly
while doing while cutting you off like the guys in
the BMW 3 series will, but the effect is just the
same. It's a jungle out there.
So what’s the takeaway to this rant?
CAN DOWNTIME MAKE A COMEBACK
Once again, I believe that the law of unintended consequences
is hard at work. There is a big market being created
that while not completely ignored, is underserved.
That’s the market for enabling our lives to slow back
down. Don’t misunderstand. I don’t mean “giving us
more time in the day”. That time generated by productivity-enhancing
devices seems to just fill back up with more frenetic
activity. I mean actually slowing us down, so we can
re-charge to sprint another day. This might be a difficult
concept for companies to get their arms around, so
that they can create new products and services to
capitalize on it. But business formation and product
creation around this theme would be really revolutionary,
and potentially very rewarding.
So the next time you’re sitting on the side of the
road with a flat tire — and a dead cell phone battery
— write me a note. Assuming your wireless Internet
connection is still up. I’d love to get your thoughts.
Phil Morettini is the Author and President
of PJM Consulting, a Managment Consultancy to Software
and High Tech Companies. PJM Consulting executes special,
strategic projects and can also supply interim senior
management in General Management (CEO, COO, Division
Manager), Product Marketing, M&A, Distribution Channels
and Business Development. You can contact Phil on the
PJM Consulting Website (http://www.pjmconsult.com)
or via email at
info at pjmconsult.com
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