New technologies require some patience, but they will get better
A reader recently wrote in with an interesting observation. Would the telephone have become as popular and necessary means of communication if its initial performance was comparable to today's cell phone technology?
Well this seems to be a quite vexing question. After all, poor cell phone performance, relative to land lines, is a given. Ads for all the major providers try to spin this, but really, why should someone's tag line be "The fewest dropped calls" or "Can you hear me now?"
When was the last time you experienced such performance on a land-line-to-land-line call?
Can you imagine the scene in the late nineteenth century? Picture the lady of the house calling the butcher, but only getting every other word through, then having to call back repeatedly to get a good signal. Certainly she would just walk over, make the order in person, and then tell all her friends how poor this new invention worked. Or would she?
Consider that as technology has progressed, so has our tolerance of imperfection. In fact, the world of technology has long been one of "one step backward, two steps forward."
Think about it. Typewriters never crashed, not even electric ones. Sure, maybe you had to change a ribbon or, later, even a cartridge, but did you ever have to turn one off and back on again?
But now, people complain about that ridiculous paper clip "helper" dude in Word.
OK, maybe that's a valid complaint, but other things, like the difficulty in formatting headers and footers and getting section breaks in the right place, are still the cause of many a gripe. Yet, when looking back at the typewriter, these things were extremely difficult, if not impossible. Despite all the complaints, no one ever considers going back to the typewriter.
The ridiculous paper clip dude is also a common complaint in Excel. But folks also experience difficulty with formulas and formatting, like sizing large sheets onto standard-sized paper. Back in the day, all calculations had to be done by hand, or on an adding machine, if you were lucky. Of course, there were at most two sizes of paper available.
So it's pretty easy to see why no one ever goes back to the days of typewriters, green eye-shades, and abacuses. For all its warts, modern technology has ultimately made things easier. That's why folks are so addicted to their cell phones. Despite the quality of the call, the ability to communicate just about whenever and wherever you are is a distinct advantage over land lines.
Back to the original question, we believe that even with less-than-stellar quality, the phone would've taken off. People would have learned then, as they do now, that new technologies require some patience but will get better.
is president of ISDI Technologies Inc., a Honolulu-based IT consultancy. Call him at 944-8742 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org