Adaptation is continuous. It isn’t going to stop

EvolutionWe live in the future. The pace of change is astonishingly fast, and it’s accelerating. We’re living through not one but at least two huge technological advances – hardware in the form of computers and mobiles and tablets, and the network itself. We’re just starting to see the social changes that come as a result of those things: interlinked networks, technologically enabled, doing new stuff like Wikipedia and Wookiepedia and breaking the entire news industry by publishing stuff immediately and talking to each other directly.

Of course, children born today have no idea what a rotary telephone is, or a vinyl record. That’s not a hard thing to understand. What’s startling is realising that most 12-year-olds now have no idea what the save icon in Microsoft Word is meant to look like. Floppy disks are gone. We’ve gone through so much tech so fast.

But we’re not done with those changes. Not even the network changes are over, never mind the hardware and the social effects from those things. We have got so many more years of this to come – magical devices emerging from big conferences that change the way your whole life works; new ways of having conversations and sharing things and spreading information virally that come out of tiny startups with no cash. Things we can’t imagine yet, but that will seem inevitable as soon as they exist.

We don’t get to stop yet. In fact, we probably aren’t going to stop in my lifetime. I’ve made my peace with the idea that every solution I work on, every innovation I’m part of and every exciting development I eagerly enjoy is a step on the way somewhere else. Everything we are currently doing is temporary.

It’s pointless trying to adapt to survive the current conditions and then stopping. By the time you’ve adapted the current conditions will be old news. In three years’ time your nice, completed adaptation will be obsolete.

That doesn’t mean we get to stop doing it. It means that – in the news business especially – we need to get a move on doing it now. We need buckets of innovation now, in chunks that we can test and deploy and iterate on and learn from, so that in six months’ time we can be doing the next thing. And then the thing after that. And then the next thing. Because standing still would be monumentally, suicidally stupid.

This post was brought to you by @currybet on innovation, @adders on disruption, and @yelvington on Kodak.

Published by

Mary Hamilton

I'm a journalist-type tech-ish geek person, working in that interesting ambiguous place where reporting the news meets all sorts of peripheral skills. In my spare time I herd zombies, design games and write stuff.

3 thoughts on “Adaptation is continuous. It isn’t going to stop”

  1. William Gibson wrote over two decades ago (1984) a scarily accurate ‘dialogue’ of the technological advancements that we would have today, especially in the novel ‘Neuromancer’ and, the subsequent ‘Count Zero’ and ‘Mona Lisa Overdrive’.

    Of course, as a sci – fi writer he had artistic licence in as much as he did overstep the predictions somewhat. Or, as his ideas way back when, used by the military, with no information to the public for years (internet/www)as to what they were up to…

    We can but hope that other developments are used wisely and do not exclude a greater spectrum of people…

  2. Is the pace of change really accelerating? My grandmother was born in 1900. By the time she was 20, horses and carts were being replaced by cars, the movie industry had evolved to Laurel and Hardy (OK 1921), streets and houses were lit with electricity, commercial airlines were starting, there had been a Marxist revolution in Russia and most of her male relatives had been killed in WWI. What have we had in the last 20 years? The internet? Tablet computing? Mobiles?

    1. Home computing as a whole, and work computing too, in the last 20 years – but yes, you have a good point, and Matt Edgar raised something similar with me on Twitter today too. I suppose I am talking most specifically about the changes in habits – working habits, consumption habits, and communication habits – which do seem to me unprecedented and unprecedentedly quick. But then again, I’m living through it.

      What I want to do with this post, though, is make the point that for the news industry in particular, innovating a little and then hoping that’ll be enough for the next few years or moving so slowly that innovations are obsolete by the time they exist just isn’t going to cut it.

What do you think?