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April 21, 2009

Tracking the Tech Transformation, Part Two

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Photo by Curtis Palmer via Creative Commons

In part one of Tracking the Tech Transformation I made the point that the rapid pace of technological innovation today is unique throughout human history. President Barack Obama’s selection of the nation’s first chief technology officer corresponds with the character and challenges of our time. By improving our standard of living and simplifying important tasks, technology will play a significant role in managing our lifestyles and achieving our goals for the future.

I’ve identified three manifestations of the tech revolution which signal a fundamental paradigm shift. The first is the use of the online cloud, similar to referred memory, a central storage location for all of human knowledge. The important change to keep in mind here is that advancements in hardware or operating systems have lost their relevance because both are simply means to an end — a connection to the Web.


Photo by Tambako the Jaguar via Creative Commons

The Dead Tree Society

The next paradigm shift is currently in transition, and that is the end of print in favor of Web-accessible content. As newspapers and other print media focus their energies on adapting to the Web, the American public has witnessed the end of the major print era.

Steven Johnson writes in The Wall Street Journal, How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write, electronic book readers will add complex dimensions to our reading habits.

I knew then that the book’s migration to the digital realm would not be a simple matter of trading ink for pixels, but would likely change the way we read, write and sell books in profound ways. It will make it easier for us to buy books, but at the same time make it easier to stop reading them. It will expand the universe of books at our fingertips, and transform the solitary act of reading into something far more social.

With the advent of the Internet, books became the “dark matter” of the content universe; “because books have largely been excluded from Google’s index — distant planets of unlinked analog text — that vast trove of knowledge can’t compete with its hyperlinked rivals.” That is, until the Kindle and Google Book Search hit the scene. Now, not only are readers able to find a book in moments, they can also purchase that book as well. The impulsive purchase of a book mentioned in a movie or by a friend in passing conversation is just as convenient as downloading a song on iTunes.

In such a world, books made from paper will be reserved for memorabilia and nostalgia. Fiction and non-fiction alike, books have long been considered an art form. But now they hold that distinction even more as the physical book takes on the characteristics of a trophy, or as the New York Times writer Noam Cohen puts it, a vinyl record “admired for its look and feel, its cover art, and relative permanence — but not so much for convenience.”

Books and print media have undergone a kind of puberty since the advent of the Internet. And we have taken the journey on the hormonal wave of change — complete with uncertainty, emotionality and, in the end, adaptation.

In part three, I’ll chronicle the shift toward free or open source solutions. With all the advancement we’ve experienced during the information revolution, it’s interesting to see how we continually demand more for less.

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One response to “Tracking the Tech Transformation, Part Two”

  1. Michael writes:

    I’m thinking that we’re another step closer to a paperless society. People have embraced emails, pdfs, emailed newsletters, archiving electronically, etc. These all seem like another cut in the umbilical that we have with physical paper. I’m on the verge of getting a Kindle (or similar) for my reading too.

    My filing cabinet at home, to keep my bills, receipts and tax notes, is getting a bit too cumbersome. E-paper (and e-books) is now the way to go for me. It’s the transition that is painful. Too many people are still asking for the hardcopy. Here’s the clincher – I suspect they’ll also eventually scan it for storage electronically. It’s still the transition that hurts for most.



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