At the risk of looking like the resident geek, I want to follow up Glen’s recent post about the Apple tablet or iPad, “Amazon versus Apple: Penthesilea by a nose?”
In the WSJ today there is an entire collection of articles on the iPad, the so called “Mosses Tablet” Apple showed off yesterday. Looking at what the articles said, and didn’t say, and what they were next to, tells me three things that I think are worth considering. Though all three start in tech, I think all three have very wide implications.
The revolution will not happen
First of all, if you read the comments at any tech site, the responce from many to the iPad has so far been “so what?” Numerous people point out that it is simply a larger screen iPod Touch. So who cares?
It is worth noting however that this is the same reaction the iPhone got, in broad strokes: “So what? It is a touch screen phone?” The app store for the iPod and iPhone got similar reactions. “I can install apps on my phone now.” The iPod also got this treatment. “There are already music players.”
In fact that seems to be the general mood to every product Apple has ever released, going all the way back to the Macintosh. “So the computer has pictures and a pointer? We saw that at Xerox already. Who cares?”
The first lesson I take from this is that nothing is revolutionary. Rather all the advancements we see, have seen, and will seen are evolutionary. I think that it may just be possible that every revolutionary change you can list, wether in tech, humanities, politics, thinking or any other area, is in fact an evolutionary change that people simply didn’t see coming. Apple prides itself on the revolutionary WIMP (Windows Icons Mouse Pointer) interface they brought to the world with the Macintosh, and well they should. But those who followed the tech world at the time could see the slow building of concept for years before it became a reality. The metaphor of computer workspace as a desktop was building in science fiction circle for years. The idea that files were objects was in programing languages long before they become icons or your screen. The pointer system was under development in Xerox for years, etc. The interface only seemed revolutionary to those not in the know.
Another way of saying this is that overnight successes don’t happen overnight. Having all of the elements of a “revolutionary” change in place takes time. This is a good lesson in any area. We won’t see a revolution in healthcare if we don’t put the pieces in place first. We can’t rebuild the political system out of nothing. We won’t see a tech jump from Windows to the Minority Report style computing in one week. Real change takes time. It is evolutionary by necessity.
One reason that is so, is simply that people also need time to adapt. Even if the technology had somehow been with us, if the iPhone had been made available right after the original Apple computer, who would have known what to do with it? Whats more, the product is a success because of the ecosystem of products around it that it depends upon. The cellular network, the computers it links to, the email systems already in place, the computing resources it relies on.
In a similar fashion, a green power “revolution”, in order to be successful, needs to be a part of, and dependent on, the system in place. Even if it is to eventually replace that system. Hybrid cars, for example, are at best a stop between the older ICE engines and an entirely new transportation system that will have to be built into the existing infrastructure. But they are still necessary. The all electric car was doomed to failure, in part because of the way people thought about cars at the time. The slower evolution from “self contained transportation” to the idea that the car might have multiple power types, to the idea that a car plugs in, might still evolve further into a version of public transportation, for example the Zipcar concept. Or it may evole in entirely new directions. But the clues already exist if we look for them, because if they didn’t, the changes would be acceptable, and therefore won’t be a success.
Expecting people to suddenly change their lifestyle and thinking, even based on need, is doomed to failure. But leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that leads slowly towards the next step means planning ahead. The “boiling a frog” metaphor works both ways. It can get us into serious trouble without our noticing, but it can also make the world a better place with the enthusiastic cooperation of the public rather than resistance.