The Power of Old Technology


So most of what I post about is about innovation and how that can impact the economy. However, these innovations can take years to hit the larger part of a given market let alone the greater population (either in a country or in the world). I think it’s pretty obvious why it takes so long for technology to diffuse in a given area, but I’ll list some. I think the two biggest adoption slow downs are price and lock-in. I think price is fairly straight forward, if you can’t afford it you can’t buy it right away. You have to wait until the product reaches a price point you can afford. This may mean that you bought an original iPhone when the iPhone 3GS came out or something along those lines. Lock-in is a little bit more complicated. There can be a couple different types of lock-in. Keeping with the cell phone example, you are locked into a specific network based on your contract, and in some cases with the difficulty in taking your number to the new network with you. The other type of lock in is the fact that you are already using a phone. You may already really enjoy using your Blackberry, because you use Blackberry messenger, so you’re going to continue using Blackberry phones even if it is a lesser product.

Most of those examples are from our developed world. Most of the time we don’t think about how the rest of the world uses technology. In parts of India people are still using those old Nokia phones we had about 10 years ago. They were sturdy phones that were able to call and text. In those areas were the only connection is a mobile phone that is powered by a solar panel these old technologies are important. The problem with mixing new technologies like solar panels with rural farmers that still mostly use a hoe for farming is that they have no abilities to fix or deal with a broken solar panel. While most people in the developed world do not either, there are people that do have the experience and they are only a phone call away.

Old technologies also have a habit of making a comeback. Look at the recent explosion of LP sales. This technology was basically dead during the 80’s and 90’s, however it’s extremely popular now again. This is partially because of other effects. The fact that when you purchase many LPs you are able to get a digital version of the album makes it less risky for you to buy the LP. I say risky, not that there is much risk, because without that most people would result to downloading a copy of the album and with the copyright system the way it is, you risk lawsuits etc.

There’s an interesting book on this topic. It’s called “Shock of the Old” by David Edgerton. It’s a great read, pretty fast to get through it too. There’s some surprising numbers in there. For instance, the Nazi’s used more horses in WWII than the British did in WWI. While they were used for carrying supplies, it’s not something we see in movies or video games. Apparently even the US had 1 horse for every 4 men.

Are there any old technologies that you’ve seen a resurfacing of, or that you’ve heard of being used today?

4 thoughts on “The Power of Old Technology

  1. Pingback: Science as Diplomacy, nothing new | Science, Technology, + Culture

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