Deciding whether or not to adopt a new technology, can be a tough decision. Does it improve my current reality? Have others adopted it? What does it cost?
When we look at the history of technological advances in the world, it’s interesting to hear what people said before eventually adopting a new technology. In 1876, for example, an internal Western Union memo read, “this telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” Now nearly everyone has a phone!
Here’s a great list of technologies that people didn’t get behind at first and now take for granted from Me and My Double, a site devoted to telepresence technology.
The Wheel – This is the all-time classic that many companies still try to reinvent. If cartoons count as evidence, all the other cave men laughed at the inventor of the wheel, who was probably run over by his own invention in the end.
Central Air – Here’s an idea that was a little ahead of its time. In Ancient Rome, around the time of Emperor Nero, Seneca the Younger wrote that “In my own time there have been inventions of this sort … tubes for diffusing warmth equally through all parts of a building … . But the inventing of such things is drudgery for the lowest slaves; philosophy lies deeper.” The average marble edifice probably didn’t have very good insulation anyway, so the heating bill would have been enormous.
Trans-Atlantic Vessels – “The western Ocean is infinite and perhaps unnavigable.” That was the advice Ferdinand and Isabella received on Columbus’s hair-brained scheme to sail the long way around to India. Sometimes entrepreneurs have to pivot after launch.
The Telephone – Western Union, which single-handedly made the Pony Express obsolete, never saw this one coming. A memo from 1876 read, “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” Dropped the call.
Lightbulbs – A professor at Oxford University concluded, “When the Paris Exhibition of 1878 closes, electric light will close with it and no more will be heard of it.” It’s safe to say that one did not appear above his head at the time.
Military Airplanes – French military genius Ferdinand Foch concluded in 1904, “Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” News must have traveled slow back then because that was one year after the Wright brothers listened to their investors and successfully took a flying leap. The US military came knocking on their door within a few months.
Cars – Henry Ford couldn’t get a loan for his assembly line from the Michigan Savings Bank. Their president advised, “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty–a fad.” He was half right. Horses are still around.
Radio – In 1921, another investor laughed at the whole concept of broadcast media. “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?” We could generously say that he was an early promoter of personalization.
Computers – Yes, everyone has heard this quote by now but it never gets old. IBM’s chairman confidently announced in 1943, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Of course, computers weighed 30 tons back then and had less computing power than a pocket calculator. It didn’t take long for IBM to turn that around.
Telepresence Robots – In 2012, IEEE Spectrum summed up what many people had expressed in one way or another, “We’ve long been skeptical of the viability of telepresence robots that cost as much as a car.” As prices have dropped and designs have improved, however, the stage is now set for a new standard in business hardware.