October 8, 2009

An illustration of the difficulty of being a good futurist

From “How Technology Changes Society,” by: William Fielding Ogburn. Published in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 249, Social Implications of Modern Science (Jan., 1947), pp. 81-88.

Between the patenting of an invention and its use, the old adage is appropriate: there is many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip. An illustration of this may be the form of facsimile transmission which produces a newspaper by radio in the home or office. We do not know how much use it may have in the production of newspapers. In the first place, there is a low-priced substitute in a newspaper printed at a central printing press and distributed by mail or messenger. The delay in newspaper delivery to farms, however, may mean that farmers will buy this facsimile instrument. On the other hand, only farmers with electric wire are likely to buy it, or perhaps there are many other inventions which a farmer would rather have than a machine to print his newspaper in the home. And, of course, he can hear the news at less cost from radio commentators.

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