Generalized talkies

Yesterday I framed a subject (games for learning) in a specific way: The difference in perceived value of something before and after it has found its way into general use. This might be thought of as the “generalized talkies” problem, since the added value of spoken dialog in movies couldn’t have been completely clear to the general public until actual talking pictures started getting made and distributed.

This pattern shows up repeatedly. Automobiles were seen as either a curiosity or an annoyance in their earliest years. An entire industry initially missed the significance of Post-It notes. And of course there’s the Web. Back in 1992 very few people could have seen the eventual transformative impact of the one-two punch of easily authored hyperlinks and the image tag.

I wonder what new technologies are emerging right now that will turn out to be the new talkies for our era.

12 thoughts on “Generalized talkies”

  1. The impact of self-driving cars will be huge. And not necessarily in a comfortable way; as driving trucks/autos employs a large number of people.

    Indeed, think of all the people employed just because cars routinely crash due to human error: medical personnel, tow truck drivers, junk yards, body shops & mechanics, lawyers, insurance adjustors, auto & replacement part manufacturers.

    On the flip side, those crashes kill & maim tens of thousands of people.

  2. Yes, self-driving cars is a great example!

    One of the things I find really interesting about this is that most of these technologies require significant infrastructure changes on a large scale. While clever people can come up with the new technology ideas and imagine what society would look like if everyone had them, it seems harder to imagine in advance how bring about the infrastructure changes to support the technology. For example, in the early days of the web people would speculate on the day when you could arrive in a new city and check your mobile device for maps, restaurant information, events, etc. But none of that infrastructure existed yet. How would we get all this information about all those cities in place? I feel like I was there before and after (in Silicon Valley, at the lab where AltaVista was born, in the first city on the internet) and I still am not sure how it all happened.

  3. Yes, Andras, I agree. And that ties in with Sharon’s very insightful last comment. 3d printing by itself won’t be transformative, but if the right infrastructure emerges, so that local 3d printing-on-demand becomes part of the way many things are done, then it clearly can become transformative.

    Manufactured goods in society are completely oriented around an economy of scale, and therefore of standardized sizes and shapes. There are likely many situations in the home and workplace where parts of custom size and shape — if the surrounding infrastructure were there to take advantage of this capability — would be very useful.

  4. Another example of a technology that is further along than 3d printing and yet not completely established is electric cars. 10 years ago they were for hobbyists and tinkerers. Now there are major auto manufacturers selling plug-in-only cars, yet the infrastructure isn’t entirely there yet. You can’t take it for granted that you’ll find a place to recharge your car anywhere you happen to be, the way you assume you’ll be able to find gas easily. Nissan’s FAQ about charging the Leaf addresses concerns about lack of infrastructure and their efforts to get it in place ( It is fascinating to watch the transformation.

  5. I’m looking forward to the day when we can use a 3d printer to print ourselves an electric car, which will then drive all by itself to wherever we want to go. πŸ™‚

  6. BTW, Ken, I think that a really cool aspect of your ARCADE work is that you’ve found a way to push forward with a transformative idea (“eccescopy”) when the infrastructure (and, really, even the technology) doesn’t quite exist yet. It was a brilliant insight to see that you could explore it in the context of video even though you can’t quite use it yet in person in 3d.

  7. We need a blushing smiley face emoticon πŸ™‚

    In response to your previous comment, ROAD TRIP!

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