Have you ever found something to be inconvenient, and the solution seems so obvious you wonder why it hasn’t been fixed yet? Welcome to the world called reality. Despite the incredible advances in technology, we don’t live in a technological utopia, and it seems there are several reasons why:
While this might seem like a cop out, some technology seriously is impossible to make: teleportation devices, time machines, siblings who never annoy you their entire lives. These inventions may be within the realm of imagination, but deny the laws of physics (or at least our current understanding of them). It is not incredibly helpful to mention these, but my analysis would be incomplete without them.
Are flying cars one of those “impossible” technologies? No. See for yourself:
However, despite the Terrafugia Transition being “street legal,” that doesn’t mean you could drive it on the streets no problem. What the video fails to mention is that airplane wings are very sensitive to damage. Aerospace engineering is a precise science prone to huge errors with even minor discrepancies. If you drive on a gravel road and ding up your wings? Forget about trying to fly that safely. Furthermore, you’d always have to park it in a private garage. In public lot, there’s no way you could trust that no one accidentally bumped into your vehicle, and you might not know the danger until it’s too late.
Related to the idea of impracticality, some technology needs time before it’s perfected. Generally these needs fall into two categories: engineering and marketing.
Engineering time needs are there because no one ever gets innovation just right on the first try. Thomas Edison is often quoted as having said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” in reference to his efforts to invent the light bulb. Because of the risky and costly nature of R&D, companies generally only want to invest if they can see a clear return on investment. This risk-aversion leads to a lack of general scientific research. Though such a strategy might yield short-term profits, it is ill-advised. Directed research is strategically advantageous in that it “promotes serendipitous long-term innovation because you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for when you conduct it or how it may be used in the future.”
Marketing time needs refers more to timing than an amount of time. This 2011 Business Insider article provides just a few examples of companies that were mistakenly ahead of their time. Being ahead of your time is not always a good thing, because if the markets are not ready for your invention – regardless of its quality – you will fail. For businesses without a diversified portfolio this means certain death, but those with extra capital may be able to take the hit. Apple’s original MacBook Air was at the forefront of mainstream products that were completely wireless, and many people were annoyed by the inconvenience.
What might the implications be of new technology? People might lose their jobs @markdimeglio. Those same people might be killed by the self-driving cars that took their jobs @realjakejordon. We might lose the “human element” of the game we love @danmiller315. There’s even a chance our way of creating art might be impacted @jamessenwei.
Developing automation technology goes hand in hand with losing control. When I bought my truck last summer, I would have loved for much of the process to be automated. I found a price listed online and ended up having to haggle for several hours at the dealer just to get the price advertised. It was ridiculous. Some people might balk at the idea of not being able to negotiate a price, but those are people who don’t understand that salespeople have a set limit on how low they are actually allowed to go. You aren’t really bending the salesperson to your will when you ‘negotiate’ a price. I would much rather save the hassle and have a take it or leave it price. Of course, it’s probably not to the dealership’s advantage to have a set price. That would be far too easy for price wars to start. Additionally, if customers see the listed price and think they can haggle a person down (even if that’s a false perception), they are much more likely to get sucked in to a dealer and make a purchase just for convenience sake. Even if you know exactly what you want, car-buying is a long and arduous process. Unfortunately, tech is unlikely to be integrated for efficiency’s sake, because it’s not to the house’s (dealership’s) advantage, and the house always wins in the long run.
On the flip side, as a customer I truly appreciate being able to tour apartments in person. Virtual tours don’t give you the same feel for how big a place really is, and most apps like Trulia, ApartmentList, or Zillow don’t have anything besides a limited amount of still photos. I’m sure realtors would love to never spend time giving tours and could just rake in the dough sitting at their desks, but that simply won’t ever be the case. Some people do follow this method out of convenience or necessity (no time or they live out of town and only have the ability to look at a floorplan). As unlikely as apartment-renters are to transition fully to virtual tours, home-buyers are exponentially less likely. Home-buying is a huge commitment. The risk associated with not seeing a house just to save time is usually not worth it.
Even if we are willing to accept the costs listed above, maybe we just haven’t thought of the next best thing. Necessity is the mother of invention, and some things will only be invented after other inventions have failed in one way or another. It’s doubtful the Model T had cup holders, because why would anyone imagine a luxury like that when they have the mantra “You can have any color as long as it’s black?” However, as soon as people started making longer journeys and thought, “Where in the world do I put my cup of iced tea?” they realized the need for such a device.
Not everyone is a Steve Jobs thinking of the next iPhone, but not everyone has to be. We just need to live life and decide to create solutions to our problems. So, what is your big idea?