Today, in a conversation about virtual reality, I told a colleague something I’d once read in a book: That the invention of the automobile was by itself not transformative. The real change happened some years later, when the local, state and federal governments began to systematically build paved roads.
Without suitable roads, early automobiles were just a bad second cousin to the horse. But with them, autos went far beyond horse drawn carriages, becoming a serious competitor to the mighty iron horse. The car beat out the train at its own high-tech game, by virtue of superior mobility and finer granularity.
We see this story repeated over and over again in technology. Apple timed the iPhone perfectly. As late as 2006 it would have been too early to introduce a Web based SmartPhone. But by mid-2007 the Web was mobile ready, and the iPhone rode it all the way to the bank.
One of the reasons the world took so much notice when Facebook purchased Oculus was that each represented complementary capabilities, and therefore their combination seemed potent. Another apparently perfect pairing of pathway and vehicle.
Only in this case, it isn’t clear which is the road and which is the car.