Reality Box

The world is constantly changing. From electricity to cars to television to the internet, most generations have seen at least one breakthrough. 

This will continue, and it’s certain that my generation will witness another technological shift.

Interestingly, how we react to new technologies changes itself with time.  For a lot of new technologies, my first reaction was indifference, missing entirely the new possibilities the technology offered.

The iPhone? I thought it would be a flop. Facebook? I thought it would be a fad. Bitcoin? I thought it would crash.

It seems like I belong to the late majority rather than the early adopters. Maybe Douglas Adams has also a point:

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Since I’m certain to witness another change, I will have to adapt, whether I like it or not.

For instance, virtual reality might be a thing, after all. It seems to me very against the natural order of things right now, but actually it’s not much crazy than television back then.

First versions of new technologies always sucked. They were bulky, limited, slow, made just usable enough for a specific niche market. For virtual reality helmets, the gamers.

With widespread adoption, the usage can completely change, though. I’m writing this post on an iPhone using a third party app, after all. Maybe virtual reality is the future of shopping, who knows.

The talent is to foresee the potential of a mass market, which isn’t always obvious.

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers — Thomas Watson, 1943

Realizing that my ability to predict successful technology changes are as good as Thomas Watson, it’s interesting to try to see how innovators see the world.

According to Paul Graham, innovators “live in the future.” They are natural early adopters and their use of technology is so that they simply build what is missing to them.

An alternate formulation which I prefer is from Tim Urban: innovators have an accurate “reality box.” That is, unlike most people, whose understanding of the world and what technology enable reflects the common wisdom established 10 years ago, the innovator has an accurate and up-to-date understanding of the possibilities offered by technology. This make it obvious to create new products around these capabilities.

Will virtual reality turn out to be the future of shopping, or self driving cars become mainstream, or bitcoin establish itself as a the first digital currency? Whatever the next breakthrough will be, there’s an exiting time ahead.

So I’ve decided to be more open to new ideas and keep my reality box more accurate to assess them. But changing one’s way of reacting to new ideas is hard, just as well as predicting the future.

Wearing a smart watch is still something that doesn’t appeal to me. And it apparently doesn’t appeal to many other people either.

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