Sunday, November 30, 2003

Enough with the Revolution, already

Technology companies love to talk about how revolutionary their products are. They can't have given much thought to how bloody and horrible revolutions are: just think about the French and Russian revolutions.

Since so many IT companies are US-based, this usage is probably inspired by the "American Revolution", which is revered in US history. It was more of a war of independence than a revolution, however. The sustained social turmoil and inter-necine violence that characterized the French and Russian revolutions was absent.

As Encarta defines it, a revolution is a forcible, pervasive, and often violent change of a social or political order by a sizable segment of a country's population. The "revolutions" IT-company CEOs love to tout, on the other hand, are presented as significant improvements in technology products; much is made about the profound beneficial impact this will have on society, though little evidence is given. Nothing is said about profound changes in power structures, though one assumes that they worry that their company will be one to be overthrown.

The past "revolutionary" technology changes that are cited include the introduction of the mini-computer and the PC. Funnily, though, the company which arguably had the most lose in these revolutions is still very much with us: IBM. The companies who disappeared (Amdahl, ICL, DEC, etc.) must've experienced these changes as "forcible and pervasive", and their shareholders must've experienced a violent change to their portfolios.

However, it's misleading to tout Moore's Law are revolutionary. It's impact on productivity may be profound, but the change has been adiabatic. What would be wrenching is a sudden change in the 60% annual growth rate that Moore's Law represents.

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