By Stephen B. Schott
Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations
By Thomas Friedman
What happens when shattering the norm becomes the norm? When disruption is not a wave that comes every so often, but the tide carrying us all? In examining both these questions, and some speculative answers to them, Friedman captures a snapshot of where he places us in 2016.
Friedman does a convincing, and even exciting, job pointing out all the accelerations happening right now. In communications, you can have a crystal clear video call to someone on Mt. Everest. In transportation, self-driving cars are here already, and will soon be in your hands. Artificial Intelligence can outthink humans in many measurable ways. And on and on.
With that technological acceleration comes a risk of being left behind. Friedman estimates that disruptive technologies used to come every 10 years and people take 5-7 years to adapt to them. Breaking that down, the new computer operating system gets developed in year 0 and people adapt to it in 5-7 years, and a few years after that, the next technology wave arrives.
Backed with data, Friedman points out that new technology waves are starting to arrive every 3-5 years, which means they are arriving faster than we can adapt to them. This puts all but the most plastic of us behind the technology curve: Frustrated and potentially economically left behind. As the disruptions arrive in tighter waves and disruption becomes the norm, what are we to do?
Friedman pauses in answer to this with his defining analogy. Imagining the disruptions as a flowing rapid, he says the way to control the boat is not to dip your paddle but instead, paddle hard and fast to meet the rapid's speed. While the analogy works quite well, Friedman doesn't have a lot of concrete advice for implementing it. Paddling hard and fast sounds great but how am I supposed to keep up with yearly releases of Windows, automobile operating system updates, mobile phones, cable boxes, and endless waves of Air BnBs and Ubers?
Friedman proposes a Zen acceptance of the changes, but acceptance is only the first step. Where do I go to set up my new mouse?
My take: Do your best but our saving grace is coming in the wave of artificial intelligence. Right now human brains bridge the gap between what we want our machines to do, and the machine doing it. In less than 10 years, you won't have to know where to find your printer settings. "Siri, set up the new printer" will set it up. Already, technology has done away with unintelligible "PC LOAD LETTER" errors--soon none of us will have set up or interface pain: Our machines will (truly) just work. So, I'll echo Friedman and encourage you to paddle fast for now, but soon you can lounge in your self-paddling boat.
If you have questions, contact me.
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