Some Things Change, Others Remain Constant

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb

There is a clock on my PC, a clock in my car, and a clock on my cellphone. I keep my last watch–a gift from my father–in my top dresser drawer. I wonder if my great grandchildren will be able to understand how to read it, perhaps if they still make sundials in grade school they will at least know the hour.

I used to get three daily papers: the Wall Street Journal, the San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle. Now I get the San Jose Business Journal once a week and read blogs. I still see newspapers in stands in front of restaurants, I doubt I have bought three in the last year.

I learned Emacs in college and still use it almost every day.

I have a cellphone and two business lines that the business pays perhaps $200  a month for. Probably half to two-thirds of my calls are on skype, for which I spend perhaps $20 a year.

I used to think nothing of leaving the house as a boy and being out and about in the neighborhood for hours on my bike or at the library or playing ball. I used to think nothing of leaving the house without my cellphone. Now I feel naked without it and I want my boys to carry theirs if they leave the house.

I spend several hours a day processing e-mail using tools that employ usage metaphors my grandfather would have been comfortable with when postal mail was delivered twice a day.

Things change. Others remain constant. It’s hard to see the patterns when you are enmeshed in them.

When I worked in semiconductors you could predict the next decade of challenges by plotting the likely effects flowing from Moore’s Law. I probably spend more time now trying to discern the likely trajectories of various technologies and businesses but I have much less clarity.

I think we are in for a different decade ahead. I think it’s less about new inventions and more about changing the design of jobs, business processes, and business models to take full advantage of what’s already been invented. I am not saying that we don’t need more innovation, just that we have not adjusted our business practices to take advantage of what’s already here.


Re-reading this reminds me a passage from the afterward to the tenth anniversary edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

This book has a lot to say about Ancient Greek perspectives and their meaning but there is one perspective it misses. That is their view of time. They saw the future as something that came upon them from behind their backs with the past receding away before their eyes.

When you think about it, that’s a more accurate metaphor than our present one. Who really can face the future? All you can do is project from the past, even when the past shows that such projections are often wrong. And who really can forget the past? What else is there to know?

Ten years after the publication of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance the Ancient Greek perspective is certainly appropriate. What sort of future is coming up from behind I don’t really know. But the past, spread out ahead, dominates everything in sight.

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