Every city will have one

After seeing Alexander Graham Bell demonstrate his version of the telephone, the mayor of a major American city exclaimed, with uncontained enthusiasm, “I can see a time when every city will have one!”

I think it’s important not to fall into that trap with technologies that are just around the corner. In order to fully understand the eventual impact of a technology, we shouldn’t think of it as a rare exotic creature. Rather, we need to imagine that it is ordinary, humdrum, the thing you don’t even notice because it’s there all the time, like your chair, or the light switch on your wall.

It is precisely the invention that becomes so ubiquitous that we no longer think about it which transforms our world. The wondrous and exotic technology that stays wondrous and exotic — like the personal jetpack (which has existed in one form or another for nearly a century, but has never come into common use) — is a failure.

It’s the technology that you don’t notice — the pen, the water filter, indoor plumbing — that is the real triumph. If twenty years from now we are still walking around thinking of augmented reality as something amazing, then we will have failed. But if we’re all using it without even knowing it is there, then the future that some of us are now envisioning will truly have arrived.

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