Aug 262012

If you’ve read much of what I’ve written, or if you’ve ever worked with me directly, you know how much I hate the phrase “It’s just a new spin on old technology.”

Sometimes we use that phrase when we meet something new – so that we can explain it in terms of other things we know – it can help us build metaphors and more quickly embrace the technology.

Sometimes we use the phrase when we want to downplay the significance of something that appears like a fad to us.

There are variations on the phrase:

Perhaps it’s natural to take something we are just starting to understand or appreciate, and attribute its success to great marketing, luck or some other external or arbitrary cause, and not to the fact that there is some real implication to its early adopters that we didn’t (or still don’t) quite understand or appreciate. And if the “hype” gives good technology a quick start or another chance, it might not be such a bad thing either.

Earlier today I came across this quote by Eric Hoffer, an American writer on various social issues in the mid-20th century:

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.

This struck me initially in the context of history. Christie and I recently finished reading “Gone With the Wind” together, and the stark contrasts between those who held on tightly to the romantic South and those who tried to figure out how to live in the post-Civil War era displayed the difference between people who were “learned” and people who were “learners”, for better or worse.

But then I remembered people telling me that the Internet was a fad, that client-server was a fad and that SOA was “nothing new”.

I also remembered telling someone in 1994 that I couldn’t imagine working in a browser all day. At least when I learned that Thomas J. Watson of IBM had said there was, perhaps, a world market for maybe five computers, I figured I was in good company to make such a crazy statement.

It turns out, the rapid changes in JEE standards and the Java platform in the early 2000’s cured me of any notion that I could keep up on “everything” in just about any domain. Rather than studying the newest release notes of the technology, I study people and business and history and economics and… and… and… [that’s where “loose neurons” comes from]

And as soon as someone tells me that ABC technology is a new spin on something old, rather than dismissing it, I listen up. It is time for everyone who wants to inherit the future to be a learner.

  4 Responses to “Technology, change and inheriting the future”

  1. Very timely post. As you know, I have been giving considerable thought to lifelong learning of late.

    I am also reading Johan Lehrer’s innovative book “How Creativity Works.” I trust you will find this very interesting.

    • Thanks Roy. What about the post triggered you?

      • Ken,

        I saw a brief preview of this blog post on LinkedIn. The Eric Hoffer quote “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists,” caught my eye. This philosophy holds the key to success in our era as well.

  2. […] do I think those trends were as simple as “new spins” on already-existing capabilities… any more than “moving to the web” was “going back to the mainframe” […]

Leave a Reply