You know the phrase:
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Right? You hear it a lot.
But what if, in fact, invention is the mother of necessity. Once the technology exists, we then complicate things, demand more, and use up the productivity gain in raising the quality bar.
Take budgets, for example. I realize it’s hard for most people to imagine a world without ready access to spreadsheets (you’d almost have to be a baby boomer, since spreadsheets and personal computing burst onto the scene in the early 1980s). But spreadsheets changed what we expect of budgets and budgeting. The invention changed what we define as necessity. We can do the numbers now, so we demand more numbers.
Or word processing, and then, a few years later, desktop publishing. The combination completely changed what we expect of business correspondence. You’ll probably find this hard to believe, but there was a time when we wrote letters and memos and mailed them. Yes, I mean using the post office, and postage stamps. Back then, we didn’t get hundreds of letters to answer every day. The invention changed the necessity. We can email now (or tweet, or blog), so the world demands more communication.
And cell phones. Ah yes, lots of us remember the world before cell phones. We didn’t bug each other nearly as much, back before cell phones, as we do now; we didn’t expect phone calls checking in, updating each other, nearly as much. Less communication was acceptable.
Are we more productive? Who knows? Do we have a choice on the matter? No. Technology goes one way. Whether we like it or not.