Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In case you forgot, technological displacement occurred in the 1870s also

There are many people - Tad Donaghe among them - who are certain that present technological advances, coupled with changes in the business environment, will result in major disruptions to the economy. Donaghe even postulates that there may not be enough work for everyone to do, and that governments will have to pay living expenses to people whether they work or not.

When discussing these and other potential changes, Donaghe is fond of using the following phrase:

We live in interesting times.

With all due respect to Donaghe and others, while the times are indeed interesting, they are not unique.

The Twitter account @in1876 recently shared a UK Post Office publication from 1879 that talked about the American telephone. Now this may be a surprise to some of my younger readers, but back in the day Post Offices were thriving operations. And they certainly were popular in 1879, when that odd invention was starting to take hold across the Atlantic.

As a marketer working with engineers, I am well aware that certain engineering inventions, outstanding though they may be, will not take off if there is no market for them. This is something that the Post Office also realized:

Before you laugh, take a moment to think - with an open mind - about what the Post Office was saying.

In those days before child labor laws became the vogue, you had all sorts of errand boys who could carry messages, and they could do so in a reasonable time. With the "superabundance" of such people, why would anyone make the huge capital investments required to establish a telephone service? In those pre-wireless days, this required the establishment of huge cable lines going to every house, installation of devices in every house to send and receive telephone calls, and dedicated staff to route the telephone calls from one telephone to another.

Wouldn't it be easier to just give a local message to an errand boy - or send a message via the Post Office?
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