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Is the Net killing innovation?

23 February 2018

I had to laugh when I was scanning the news wires today.

Aardvark readers will doubtless recall that on Wednesday (the 21st) I published a column titled "Peak Smartphone" in which I asked whether people might stop upgrading their phones on such a regular basis because we'd already achieved a perfectly good level of power, performance and convenience with the ones we have.

Well knock me down with a feather but this morning I spotted this story (dated today which is 22nd Feb UK-time) running in The Telegraph's technology section.

Is the Telegraph so desperate for story ideas that they're now reading Aardvark?

No, of course not. What this demonstrates is several things:

Firstly, the old adage that "great minds think alike" is a true one.

Secondly, there really isn't too much to write about these days, when it comes to "technology".

I do miss the fire and the passion, the innovation and the pace of development that occurred in the computer and allied industries back in the 1980s. Today's industry is slow and tedious by comparison.

Back in the 1980s, microcomputers were "new" and exciting. Every day bought about new designs, new products, new concepts, new ideas and exciting new breakthroughs.

What was even more astonishing about this period was that all this took place without a ubiquitous internet to help people share their ideas and hard work. Or maybe that was *why* the 1980s was such an exciting period -- because so many people were working in virtual isolation that new ideas abounded.

How ironic that maybe it's the existence of the Net which is responsible for a general slowing of the pace of development.

Could it be that back in those halcyon days of the '80s, we tried stuff because we didn't know that someone else may have already tried it and failed. We didn't allow the failure of others to put us off investigating ideas and concepts that ultimately became new pieces of technology or new products.

Today, it's ridiculously easy to jump online to research the viability of an idea and find out who (if anyone) has already given it a go. How easy is it to be put off by finding a series of instances where others have attempted to do the same as you're planning to do -- but failed? If you know that other, possibly better funded and more highly knowledgeable people have failed to get an idea to work then you're far less likely to give it a go yourself.

Not so 35 years ago.

Back then, most information was disseminated by print media. Byte magazine, Dr Dobbs Journal and a small stack of influential magazines were the way you found out what others were doing and that meant we all pretty much operated in isolation.

Attending an industry trade fair would also give you a clue as to what had been successful but it didn't document the failures that, these days, might be causing many good ideas to be set-aside due to the inadequacies of attempts made by others.

It's also *much* harder to keep a secret today.

Just look at how often the latest iPhone or Galaxy is "leaked" to the world via social media and remember how easy it is for a single "leak" to propagate round the world in a matter of minutes thanks to the effectiveness of the Net and the many services that run on it.

So is the proliferation of instant, virtually-free global communication actually helping or harming innovation in the tech sector?

Surely we're not seeing a noticeable downturn in "cool new stuff" simply because we've hit some kind of technology ceiling -- so what's the explanation for the blandness of today's tech landscape?

Or is this simply a perception problem on my part?

Is it that, because I am no longer living on the bleeding edge, I'm not seeing the stuff that used to get me all hyped up and excited?

You tell me!

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