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Engelbart’s Great Ideas: Why Did Adoption Take 40 Years?

From Harvard Business Publishing, Scott Berkun writes about the day in 1968 when Doug Engelbart demoed the computer mouse, hypertext links, real-time text editing, shared-screen teleconferencing, and more - all technologies we take for granted today - and why it has taken 40 years for them to become so widely used:

One might ask “Why are we so stupid that we can’t adopt good ideas faster?” But the problem isn’t about being smart or stupid. New ideas travel through cultures at much slower rates that we realize, especially if the idea requires 1) throwing something away and replacing it with something else 2) re-learning skills or 3) co-ordination by large independent organizations.

All new ideas gain adoption or face rejection due in part to factors beyond our control. It’s rare for one new idea to entirely replace another — we may very well be using mice and keyboards in the year 2108. That’s because finding better ideas is only the first step. We also need an opportunity to make the change.

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2 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. This question is very much related to the one I ask in my work, including this older draft: “Wikipedia’s heritage: vision, pragmatics, and happenstance”

  2. Another reason Engelbart’s technology failed to achieve wide acceptance is that all the geeks of that generation were focused on artificial intelligence. The notion of a networked computer as a way to augment human thinking and facilitate collaboration was totally radical to the commonly accepted notion that computers should outright replace human thought.

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