Freeing One’s Mind from the Past

In most cases, the culprit for not allowing mankind to open their mind to possibilities is the past. More specifically it is the way that things are currently done which is the ultimate hindrance. 

Whilst one might actually embrace new technology, one often employs that technology in the same manner in which the older technology was utilised. By implication, utilising new technology also means embracing not only the new way of doing things and but also casting aside how things were done before or unlearning the past. 

That is why youngsters are so adept with new gadgets. They are not constrained by the past and how things “should be done.” 

Main picture: Creative positioning mirror

Time as a paradigm

In his thought provoking book, How We Got to Now, Steven Johnson takes six mundane aspects of life and traces their evolution to the present day. Their protracted development cycle is a function of closed minds. In all cases, the innovator was stymied by society not accepting their breakthrough.

Why should buildings be built vertically

Why should buildings be built vertically

Take time as an example. The actual time at a point on the earth is based upon the position of the sun. In the past, every town on earth had its own time based upon the sun’s position relative to that town. Of course technically that is correct.

Their first flight requires faith

Their first flight requires faith

As there was no rapid communication between towns, whether verbal or physical, the fact that the State of Indiana had twenty-three different times, twenty seven in Michigan and thirty-eight in Wisconsin, affected nobody. Rather, the oppose was true. Nobody required a watch. One just looked at the position of the sun and estimated the time. Everybody used the time corresponding to the sun and hence was 100% in sync with nature. It was only the invention of telegraphs and railroads that exposed the “fallacy” of this situation.

Doing the duck walk

Doing the duck walk

Any movement longitudinally across a country causes one’s watch to go awry. At every town en route it has to be adjusted to local time. Not only that, but to facilitate the operation of the railroads, every company based their time upon the time at their railhead. In order to understand the times of arrival of the different railroads, required a computer.

Dubai with one's head above the clouds

Dubai with one’s head above the clouds

Railroad A claiming to arrive at 8:10 could well be arriving at 7:30 local time whereas Railroad B claiming to arrive at 7:40 could instead be arriving at 8:45. At terminuses such as New York from which a dozen railroads operated, converting all arrival and departure times into local time was horrendous.

A forest on a shipwreck

A forest on a shipwreck

It took a railroad engineer by the name of William Allen to make a preposterous suggestion: standardise time across continental USA by creating Time Zones. Contrary to expectation, nobody else concurred. Would it make any difference is a town’s standard time differed from the solar time by 10 minutes or even an hour. NO! Yet the naysayers were aghast at the proposal.

A Cincinnati newspaper even opined that “It is simply preposterous. Let the people of Cincinnati stick to the truth as it is written by the sun, moon, and stars.”

It is that self-same short sightedness which makes people reject a host of current innovations.

Leaf out of contemporary innovations

It is two recent examples which drew my attention to William Allen’s innovation of Time Zones. Actually neither are that revolutionary yet they are paradigmatic of this malaise.

Abandoned Parisian railway

Abandoned Parisian railway

Take VOIP as an example. VOIP or Voice over IP is not a new concept. Rather it is not gained traction as an innovation. Within five years of the introduction of the internet, people realised that the internet could be utilised for voice transmissions as well. As one cable can transmit multiple conversations, it is substantially cheaper but initially clarity was an issue. The first attempts at VOIP resulted in eerie phone calls but have steadily improved.

I have blogged on this issue previously especially the fact the telecoms CEOs must be quaking every day. When the dyke bursts, as it undoubtedly will, the lucrative voice communication revenue stream will be slaughtered.

Why would somebody use expensive voice calls instead of VOIP?

Just sufficient room

Just sufficient room

Today the quality of free VOIP calls is equivalent to that of expensive voice calls. In fact, at my previous employer which operates internationally, I would make 50 hours of international calls per month to locates such as Dubai, Spain, the UK and the USA, yet my phone bill, thanks to VOIP, would be less than R 10 per month.

I was visiting some 80 year old cousin a few weekends ago. Like many South Africans, their three daughters live overseas. Thanks to Skype, they will happily chat to them every week.

An open water roll cloud

An open water roll cloud

Was Wase the past or the future?

Another example is Waze. Like VOIP it is free. However one has to own a SmartPhone which some of the techno-dinosaurs refuse to use. Strike two. Neither VOIP nor Wase operates on so-called feature phones. Again, I do not understand the reluctance to use a SmartPhone.

Waze is a GPS type programme with a curious twist. Instead of merely indicating the best route, it adjusts its recommended route based upon the existing traffic conditions. How does Waze do that and why can’t a normal GPS ever do that? In essence, Wase is using the speeds and locations of all other users of Waze to provide dynamic route suggestions.

Easter Island Sunrise

Easter Island Sunrise

Take an actual real-life example. Whilst driving through to the Modderfontein Country Club for a 10km race, it indicated that I should use the London Road offramp. By the time that I had reached the Buccleigh interchange, it switched it to the Marlboro offramp. As I approached Marlboro, it was plainly evident why it had “changed its mind”. The traffic was at a standstill after Marlboro.

When using Waze, even if one is thoroughly acquainted with a specific route, traffic conditions might preclude using it at the specific time. So instead of using a GPS application for new routes only , the benefits of Waze encourage its continual use. Furthermore, the more people that use Waze, the better and more accurate its route suggestions become.

Like VOIP, Waze is free. With all those benefits, why did I battle yesterday to convince a friend to load Waze onto their SmartPhone?

Forces Of Nature

Forces Of Nature

Inertia? Possibly

Scared of technology? Most probably

Would I employ somebody like that? Never

The scale of benefits

Of course, technology has its negatives. Humankind lost its ability to tell the time without wearing a watch. Similarly, most people today no longer remember more than two cellphone numbers, whereas as a child, I could recall at least a dozen.

Sunset in Santorini

Sunset in Santorini

Technology has profoundly affected humankind and will continue to profoundly influence humankind. Those unwilling to embrace technology will be swept aside as by the rush of innovations and like the dinosaurs, will become extinct.


Leave a Comment.