I have a 47 inch TV. My wife loves me and that is why I don’t have a 42 inch TV. But there is a limit to love which is why I don’t have a 50 inch TV. I love my big TV. It was a clear and dramatic upgrade over my previous 32 inch cathode ray tube TV [which was an amazing TV when I bought it]. My present TV has all the necessary plugs in the back so that I can broadcast shows from my phone onto it, and my son can play with his PlayStation on it and my Wii game station is still hooked up to it. I actually think there is a live Decepticon drawing power from it, but I’ve been too frightened to get close to it.
My simple point is that my present TV is great. It’s still more than satisfies all of my viewing needs. The joke is that I am watching it less than when I first bought it, because I am watching much more on my computer and tablets. The same is true for my family. We can all be watching some YouTube video or TV show or movie, but all of us are in our respective rooms watching on our personal devices. So, despite accidentally spilling coffee on my TV once or five times, I’m still stuck with it. I have friends who I dearly love and would give a kidney to. That is until they start talking about their new TV which is bigger and better than mine.
I have a Nexus 5 phone, and despite being laughed at, and having snowballs thrown at me during the summer, by iPhone users, I still love my phone. My phone has had its share of drops and spills but it too keeps on ticking. I really have no desire to upgrade my phone to the latest and greatest that are presently being presented at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona [the biggest mobile show in the world]. Many people I know are actually surprised by this fact.
I purposely gave these two examples because TVs and phones are common tech items that are relatively frequently upgraded by regular users. The idea of replacing a TV before it truly has breathed its last, still seems strange to me. In terms of mobile phones, I still try to hold onto them as long as I can. And as they get better and better, I replace them less often. Actually, my present mobile phone is only the third smart phone I have owned. And to be honest, the primary reason I upgraded in the past was because of needed features for my professional work. Despite the fact that I make my living in high tech, I try to squeeze the maximum out of what is considered “old” tech.
At some point though, most people will find it hard to justify upgrades, unless they are very inexpensive and automatic [which is likely to happen, even with hardware]. It might take a couple of decades until we get there, but the time is coming when the most basic software and hardware will truly be more powerful than needed by the vast majority of people.
Even today, one is already seeing the first glimpses of how super expensive devices already have relatively inexpensive alternatives. I have read about a couple of initiatives to replace very expensive artificial limbs with 3-D printed alternatives. As 3-D printing itself becomes cheaper and cheaper, it will become harder and harder to justify purchasing a whole variety of items.
It seems that every day, 3-D printers are able to generate the parts of ever more elaborate items, leaving it to the human user to assemble the various parts into the final product. Within a couple of decades, I imagine that a relatively inexpensive robot will be able to do the assembly. Therefore, a single unit that incorporates a 3-D printer and assembly robot will be able to create a chair, a table, a phone and almost any other item you can imagine. I won’t even try to guess what this will mean for the entire world of manufacturing.
In the medical field, there is a clear endpoint. At the point at which human health is maintained and disease is absent, there will really be no need for upgrades unless they are less invasive or less expensive. But at the point at which any individual can take a single pill full of nano bots and acquire the full benefit of a life without pain, suffering and disease, what possible purpose will there be to upgrading such technology. Assuming that there will still be major companies with big marketing budgets [desperately] trying to sell their wares, I imagine that “new and improved” versions of various products will still be pushed to buyers. But it will unquestionably become more and more challenging to sell almost anything beyond basic components used by home-based manufacturing devices.
I personally have no idea how to prepare for such a future. Perhaps no preparation is necessary. All of this will just happen. If I do manage to squeeze out another 30 years of life, I really do wonder what use I will be as a physician as I approach the end of my own days. Of course, ultimately every physician wants everyone to be healthy, just as every police officer wants there to be an end to crime. So, perhaps I just need to be prepared for being useless in the medical arena.
I will end this blog post with a thought that I find quite interesting. Without upgrades and without the drive to sell next best thing, what happens to innovation? Perhaps, it will no longer be needed. Perhaps at the point that we all are living in a technologically manufactured garden of Eden, innovation will effectively come to a halt.
Is it possible that progress is self limited? Is it possible that a point is reached when the average person is simply no longer interested in making any effort to improve the environment around him or her, simply because all of that person’s needs are already well met? The point in time at which technology stops to advance, may also be a time when people abandon the study of the sciences that led to all of our technology.
These are all of course just my own musings. But I have to admit that I never expected to see so much happening so quickly within my own lifespan. I hope this means that my own children and hopefully their children in turn will have a far better life than I can imagine. But who knows – when we have reached that epitome of science and technology, all that may be left for humans to do will be to prepare for war with the Decepticons hiding behind all of our TVs.
Thanks for listening