Technology’s Future Is Deeply Inertwingled

There was a time when we could talk about the future of, say, Radio, or of PBX systems. Some people, blissfully left in a different century, still do. But we really can’t any more.

As Ted Nelson said:

Intertwingularity is not generally acknowledged—people keep pretending they can make things hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can’t.

This intertwingularity has now hit the technology industry with full force.

Consider a car. It used to have nothing to do with, say, your home computer. You could ignore that it has more chips inside than your PC. But you can’t ignore that you want to plug your iPod into both. And that the map it shows on its built-in GPS is essentially the same as the one shown on your iPhone, which is the same you looked at before leaving home at your computer.

Like me, you may have a strong preference for one of those maps over another; for example, I really like Google’s real-time traffic annotations, which makes me prefer Google maps on the iPhone in the car over the GPS’s maps, which are easier to read but static. So in a real sense, my car is now competing with my iPhone and my PC (Mac actually), because they all provide mapping functionality. It gets worse: they compete with the radio, too, because I don’t need to listen to the traffic announcer to tell me about that accident ahead of me.

If you sat in a design meeting for the next car model, could you really just focus on the car, and not also take into account how iPods and smart phones are going to develop, as people are going to use them in the car? Which in turn requires you to consider things such as G3 coverage and the price of flash memory, otherwise you don’t know whether it’s viable to just use the iPhone? And whether Google’s give-it-away business model supported by advertising is sustainable?

Don’t you actually need to look at your customer, and what they do in a typical day with all of their devices, before you can tell which features they are most going to appreciate from their new car in the less than 10% of the day they spend in that car? And which will get in the way? Perhaps not having a GPS in the car is actually more satisfying for the customer than having it? Perhaps the customer would pay more for a good $10 iPhone holder than a $200 GPS?

Different examples: hard drive manufacturers in a very real sense now compete against Amazon, which offers reliable storage in the cloud. Blue-ray manufacturers still don’t seem to get that their market is going to be much smaller than they would predict from past sales of CDs and DVDs, because they are now competing against broadband and hard drives at the same time.

Even more extreme, camera manufacturers will, before too long, compete for the dollars of the consumer who chooses to not take pictures at the tourist spot, but instead download the top-ten of the pictures taken by other tourists in the same spot at the same time — it’s cheaper, more convenient, and likely produces higher-quality pictures. That’s easily facilitated with GPS, Flickr and the like. Which market are you in? Cameras or on-line services? It’s all becoming deeply inertwingled.

On this blog, I still will have to pick subjects one at a time. Even if everything is inertwingled, language is still sequential. Blog posts are unreadable if they don’t stick to a simple point one at a time. But that inertwingledness is perhaps the defining characteristic for how technology is different now than it ever was before. It hopefully is the umbrella over everything I’ll be saying here.

I’ll start with hardware.

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