What to listen for from technology scrooges

Consider today’s online world. The Usenet, a worldwide bulletin board, allows anyone to post messages across the nation. Your word gets out, leapfrogging editors and publishers. Every voice can be heard cheaply and instantly. The result? Every voice is heard. The cacophany more closely resembles citizens band radio, complete with handles, harrasment, and anonymous threats. When most everyone shouts, few listen.

I saw this short opinion piece from 1995, and it’s related to the technology myopia I wrote about recently, even amongst the technologically well-versed.

Once again, it’s easy for us to say Mr. Stoll here is a fool. But that’s not what we should glean from this. We now know that even if every voice can be heard cheaply, that data can be easily accessed in text form, and someone will come up with an algorithm to organize it all. Not only that, there’s more than one algorithm. Some, like Pagerank is all in a computer. Others, like Digg, Reddit, and HN, are computer-human hybrids that require a bit of social engineering. So while Mr. Stoll correctly identified the problem, he let that stop him there. It was beyond his imagination if, much less how, that problem would be solved.

The same goes when any technology pundit talks about the current new crop of technologies. He might just not have the background to know whether it’s possible at all, or he might just not have the imagination. You need both to see clearly.

That’s not to say you should ignore everything these pundits say. Instead, listen carefully. The hard part of product development is making something people want. What pundits have done is the hard part of identifying the problem. It’s up to you to figure out how to prove them wrong.

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