In his inaugural post at Disruptive Economics, Timothy Lee captures the essence of technological disruption:
What makes a technology disruptive is that it’s dramatically simpler and cheaper than the technology it replaced. To users of incumbent technologies, disruptive technologies almost always look like toys. Think, for example, of how a $1000 PC in the late 1970s looked to someone used to using a mainframe or minicomputer that cost tens or hundreds of times as much.
But while disruptive technologies often start out looking dramatically inferior to incumbent technologies, this tends to change rapidly. In the late 1970s, thousands of hobbyists who couldn’t afford “real” computers bought PCs and began playing around with them. Most of them didn’t produce anything especially groundbreaking. But those who did, like spreadsheet inventor Dan Bricklin, found a large market for their innovations.
I’m seeing exactly the same sort of thing play out in PC-centric environments with the iPad—a shiny, Applely thing that many viewed (still view) as a toy. I mean, somewhere toward the end of the seventh day, God ordained that real work requires a Microsoft Office logo somewhere on the screen, right? Right?
Nope. It turns out that workplace technology innovation didn’t end in the 1990s with Word and Excel after all.
But there’s an even more important message in the chunk I tore out of Timothy’s article: Spreadsheets probably wouldn’t have been born without PC experimentation. Someone had to play with those then-toys to create applications. And the applications, in turn, cast the toy—the PC—in a productive role.
The same is true for mobile app markets today—a pretty damn huge adjacent possibility found tangential to smudgy, played-with touch screens.
Maybe chickens didn't start making eggs until people played with them. I don't know. But long live toys, and long live those who play with toys, I say.
(h/t to Andy Howard for showing me Timothy Lee’s new gig.)