It is difficult to assess the impact of new technology because it is not just the capabilities of the new technology but how much better it is than the mainstream technology that is being replaced. It is the capability differential and the increase in the number of people who can use it. We can see this with the history and future of communications technology.
Prior to the telegraph, communication in the 1830s was about the same as it had been in the years just after Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. It took days, weeks, and even months for messages to be sent from one location to a far-flung position. After the telegraph cable was stretched from coast to coast in the 1850s, a message from London to New York could be sent in mere minutes, and the world suddenly became much smaller.
Prior to the telegraph, politics and business were constrained by geography. The world was divided into isolated regions. There was limited knowledge of national or international news, and that which was shared was generally quite dated. After the telegraph, the world changed. It seemed as if information could flow like water.
By the 1850s, predictions about the impact of the new medium began to abound. The telegraph would alter business and politics. It would make the world smaller, erase national rivalries and contribute to the establishment of world peace. It would make newspapers obsolete. All of the same statements were made in the 1990s by people who were wowed by the first-blush potential of the Internet.
In the boom of the 1920s, people rushed to buy radios, and business and social structures adapted to the new medium. Universities began to offer radio-based courses; churches began broadcasting their services; newspapers created tie-ins with radio broadcasts.
By 1922 there were 576 licensed radio broadcasters and the publication Radio Broadcast was launched, breathlessly announcing that in the age of radio, “government will be a living thing to its citizens instead of an abstract and unseen force.”
FDRAs with television in later years, however, entertainment came to rule the radio waves much more than governmental or educational content, as commercial sponsors wanted the airtime they paid for to have large audiences. Most listeners enjoyed hearing their favorite music, variety programs that included comic routines and live bands, and serial comedies and dramas. Broadcasts of major sports events became popular as the medium matured and remote broadcasts became possible.
By 1948, the 30 millionth phone was connected in the United States; by the 1960s, there were more than 80 million phone hookups in the U.S. and 160 million in the world; by 1980, there were more than 175 million telephone subscriber lines in the U.S. In 1993, the first digital cellular network went online in Orlando, Florida; by 1995 there were 25 million cellular phone subscribers, and that number exploded at the turn of the century, with digital cellular phone service expected to replace land-line phones for most U.S. customers by as early as 2010.
World Changes Due to the Telephone
Within 50 years of its invention, the telephone had become an indispensable tool in the United States. In the late 19th century, people raved about the telephone’s positive aspects and ranted about what they anticipated would be negatives. Their key points, recorded by Ithiel de Sola Pool in his 1983 book “Forecasting the Telephone,” mirror nearly precisely what was later predicted about the impact of the internet.
For example, people said the telephone would: help further democracy; be a tool for grassroots organizers; lead to additional advances in networked communications; allow social decentralization, resulting in a movement out of cities and more flexible work arrangements; change marketing and politics; alter the ways in which wars are fought; cause the postal service to lose business; open up new job opportunities; allow more public feedback; make the world smaller, increasing contact between peoples of all nations and thus fostering world peace; increase crime and aid criminals; be an aid for physicians, police, fire, and emergency workers; be a valuable tool for journalists; bring people closer together, decreasing loneliness and building new communities; inspire a decline in the art of writing; have an impact on language patterns and introduce new words; and someday lead to an advanced form of the transmission of intelligence.
Multiple communication methods during each era and region
The impacts in different countries is different for different technologies. Many countries did not have many landline phones but are joining the mobile and smartphone revolution which has deeper usage penetration.
Also the new technology builds upon the companies and acceptance and comfort that people have using the prior technology.
During each decade or time period there was a set of communications that were used
Faxes, landline phones, mail, radio, television, early non-user friendly internet
Then this transitions
Browser based internet, texting and mobile phones along with landline phones and the other older technology
Then we add Skype (video communication for the masses), webex (computer to computer sametime communication), twitter, and the older technology that carries forward
Elon University looks forward to what they think will be added.
Ubiquitous RFID tied to GPS. Super supercomputers. Intelligent materials.
An Improved Internet
RFID/GPS Tracking Everything
Food As Designer Medicine
Intelligent Fabrics, Materials
Many Other Possibilities
Genetic profiling. Human cloning. Autopilot vehicles. Adaptable materials.
VR immersion. Ubiquitous robots. Emotion-control devices. Paint-on power.
Immersive Virtual-Reality Worlds
Paint-On Power Generation
Many Other Possibilities
Biostasis in space. Space elevator. Moon base. A “singularity” due to accelerating change.
Mars colony. Time travel. Brain downloading.
Humans assimilated into the internet.
Qualitative change versus Quantitative Change
We will be getting Exaflop and Zettaflop supercomputers but they will be displacing multi-petaflop supercomputers that we already have. Current petaflop supercomputers perform a lot military simulations, cryptography, climate modeling, molecular simulations and other applications.
It seems there will be more impact from entirely new methods of computing versus just another million fold improvement in speed. Entirely new categories of computing could enable different solutions and different algorithms and new applications.
Quantum dot computing
More impact can be from the million fold improvement on the tiny end.
Thinfilm Norway will be making a big impact with integrated with logic elements, sensors, batteries, and displays for mass market applications such as all-printed RFID tags. The proven high volume roll-to-roll production of Thinfilm printed memories provides the platform for its Memory Everywhere
A smart tag or sticker that is RFID enabled going from kilobits to gigabits.
There is also how some technologies are enablers for other follow on technologies.
Steel and elevators enable other technologies to be possible (such as taller buildings). Taller buildings transform cities and society and economies.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.