Two steps from oblivion

I have a theory, one which could be torn apart with ease, but I will persevere and try to explain it. The theory is that a product survives when it is superseded by something new, and then it is killed off when the newer product is superseded by something newer or better. Make sense? No? Fair enough, I will explain.

Vinyl: it survived the arrival of cassettes, possibly because the sound quality was not excellent from tapes, but when the CD arrived it was eventually killed off. Also, the cassette died as well and please don’t use the resurgence of vinyl as a counter-argument because it is a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things.

Horses: The bicycle came along at roughly the same time as the car, but the latter took longer to become mainstream. When it did horses were no longer used for common travel despite the fact that they had largely co-existed with bicycles.

Phones: The landline was all we had and then the mobile phone came along. Landlines continued alongside mobile phones and then the smartphone arrived. The mobile operators caught up, slashed prices over time and how often do we use our landlines today? We don’t. Our parents will call us using one and we need the line for broadband, but the reality is that the landline is dead.

So, what else will suffer the ‘two steps’ fate?

Watches: This is an oddity because I suspect that quartz watches will fall to the side and be replaced by smartwatches. Mechanical watches will likely continue, but in numbers that are largely insignificant in comparison to the wider watch market.

Computers: Multiple steps have already taken place consisting of tablets, smartphones, smartwatches, Chromebooks and (in the future) foldable phones. It blows apart my silly theory, but the desktop computer is without doubt a time-limited product.

Cars: They will not die in the near future, but the combustion engine will. Electric cars are here today and are moving up the market relatively quickly, but they need to change. When battery technology reaches a level where they are completely practical to use the new electric car will take over and the car we know today will die quickly.

I could try to think of more, but time is short today. However, it does seem that there is a vague pattern that fits the two steps from oblivion idea.

Categories: Articles

3 replies

  1. Depending on how long it takes for the various product introductions, it may be a generation thing. For example, I grew up without a computer but hit them in university. My son never knew a home without a personal computer. His kids never knew a home without a console and a tablet.

    People have a tendency, as they get older, to hold on to familiar things. Alternatively one could argue that they try fewer new things. That holds for longer term things like horses to bicycles to cars.

    However, another explanation is that a new product introduction rarely displaces the old product, even though it may be meant to replace it. By the time the next new product is introduced, no one is manufacturing the original so it dies out. That’s what happened with television. First there were tube TVs, then there were projection TVs, then there were LCD and LED TVs. Any tube TVs around?

    As for computers, there are many lineages. From card machines to mainframe computers to personal computers. But mainframes or the centralized equivalent are still around although I’m sure that distributed connected personal computing is an option. I don’t agree that the desktop or non-mobile computer is limited. Rather it will be built in to wherever you live and provide lots more power than you could have in a mobile anything. The TVs you have around the house will become access points, i.e. monitors. You’ll be able to plug in from anywhere using whatever mobile device you choose, so the laptop as a computer won’t be needed.

  2. Yeah. I think there’s a bit of something to the general idea you’re getting at here, but obviously a lot will depending on how you draw lines and define a set of generations (and it doesn’t look like you’re claiming this theory is ironclad anyway 😀 )

    I think desktops will be increasingly niche, since laptops function pretty well in desktop mode but travel too. I’m more interested in seeing if the “desktop metaphor” (i.e. doing more serious work with a keyboard and a pointer device) will persevere or be supplanted. Tough to take a firm stand without standing like an old fogey or a wild eyed futurist. (and will keyboard skills continue their rise in importance, like how it’s sort of nudging out handwriting training? the only other option would be ‘voice recognition gets really good” and I dunno about that – voice has a very different relationship with time and space than does screen and keyboard.)

  3. Re generations, I’m not thinking of the general groupings, like baby boomers, millennials, and so on. It’s more like grandfather, father, son, grandchildren. That’s more easily and directly observable.

    Certainly things will change, whether we like it or not. Will talking to your device take the place of keyboarding and/or pointing? I don’t know. There are too many places where people do work together where talking would probably not work. But maybe as devices learn how to talk back, talking to them will feel more natural.

    As for not teaching handwriting, or cursive writing, I recall learning that from a grade 5 teacher. At the time I thought how was someone supposed to develop a signature. But then I realized that facial recognition, finger prints, retina scans, or just tapping a card will do for most cases.

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