“NOTHING lasts forever, of that I’m sure”, to borrow a line from Bryan Ferry. And as it applies to forsaken love, so too it applies to technology.
The speed of technology change poses a problem both for digital media analysis and training product investment.
Take for example, SMS messaging. On those little mobile phones with their limited screen space and clumsy keyboard, we were forced to writing brief, truncated messages. This social commentators considered was the beginnings perverse new language (CU@8) and many an article was written decrying this new social issue, viewing it as undermining standards of English literacy.
Now, with smartphones, due its screen legibility and change in carrier fee structures, long detailed messages are written that have effectively replaced personal emails. By the time commentators and analysts have caught up with the technology, considered it and reported on it, it’s moved on.
In the jargon, what we are contending with is called technology ‘churn’.
More problematic is when it concerns education and training investment. It’s all very well being an early adopter, but what if the technology stream that we invest in is no longer around in 5 years hence? What does that mean for the waste of resources we have invested in it? Is 5 years shelf-life sufficient?
Take for example the story of Palm. The rather grandiose name they gave these mobile devices was a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).
I still have one. A Palm III. It lies in my bedside drawer, dead to the world.
Back in 2000, I considered it rather smart, with its graffiti alphabet that you could write on screen using a stylus. You could also download some open source software products, including simple databases.
I took it out on the road for a while, attempting to convince building safety auditors to use it to replace their double handling efforts of pen and paper checklists.
The problem was, we could never decide which Palm version to suggest for purchase, as it was being constantly upgraded with more robust models appearing all the time.
It cost about $900 at the time: not cheap. Really, it was no more than a sophisticated digital organiser or diary: contacts list, calendar and notes. But it did have potential, and it was reasonably successful in medical education, which used its mobile digital storage for medical and drugs information. Its database had real commercial application.
But once the mobile phone introduced more sophisticated features (contact lists, calendars, etc) onto its platform, the PDA was cactus.
Finally in August 2011, the most recent owner of Palm, Hewlett-Packard, terminated it.
Palm suffered not only from its own innovation rush, product churn, compatibility issues and competition from other players (Microsoft) and smart phones, but also from the jockeying of large corporations wanting to buy into mobility and utilise the innovative features that Palm offered.
Palm history is a litany of corporate squabbling.
So did I get a return my Palm investment? No way. Yes, it had high show-off value, but I was never able to convince commercial enterprises to take it on (they were right, as it turned out). For me, it had a life span of about three sad years.
In fact, what’s driving a lot of technology change is not really product improvement and innovation, but market share squabbles and the need to have constant consumer product turnover. This is alright if the product horse we choose to back is on a roll, but it’s a not so good if the horse ends up as a dead duck.
As for social commentators, they need to be more careful drawing hard and fast conclusions about constantly changing and evolving technologies.
Of course, the dark side to all this churn is e-waste. A mobile phone has a working life of 7 years, but the average consumer in the developed world now disposes their’s every 11 months, reflecting the increase in the rate of disposability of all electronic products. (See Waste: We’re drowin’ in it)