Corollaries of Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ Laws Interactions

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Here are some corollary effects resulting from observable dynamics of Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ laws. These go beyond the computer and telecommunications industries from which those dynamics directly stem and beyond the media industries which are the subject of this particularly work you’re reading, and pertain to virtually all industries now and in the future, as well as to societies, culture, and civilization. The ramifications of these corollary effects demonstrate the sheer scale of changes that the dynamics of Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ laws have engendered:

Mind-boggling increases in the pace of change. The single most remarkable effect of the interactions of Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ laws is an ever-increasing pace of technological acceleration. Humanity never before has had to deal with such a meteoric pace of change. To put this in perspective, compare the current pace of technological change with that of previous revolutionary technologies. If the capabilities of the powered-flight aviation technologies invented by the Wright Brothers in 1903 had accelerated at even the slowest pace of the three laws I’ve mentioned (i.e., Cooper’s Law), then by 1978 the average airliner would have been capable of conveying a quarter billion people at the Speed of Light (a flight which, of course, would probably be impossible due to the size of the craft but certainly due to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity!) Likewise, if the capabilities of the automotive technology invented by Karl Benz in 1885 had accelerated at that pace, then by 1982 any auto would have been capable of carrying everyone in the world at the Speed of Light. If the printing technology invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450 had advanced at that pace, the capabilities of the average printing press today would denude the Earth of trees for paper in less than a second. Mind-boggling! Clearly, no previous technology, no matter how revolutionary that people considered it, has ever progressed at the paces of Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ laws. When I tell my university students, “You’re a unique generation,” some at first think that I am patronizing them; but I justify my statement by explaining to them that, “You’re a generation who will have to adapt to more changes than any previous generation of humans who’s ever lived, changes no previous generation imagined. If you think that you’ve seen changes during the past ten or 20 years, you haven’t seen anything yet.”

Ever shorter ‘mature’ phases for products and ideas. On a more practical level, one aspect of the accelerating pace of change will be increasingly short ‘mature’ phases for many, if not most, technologies and products. Traditionally, industries and businesses have enjoyed long commercial lifespans for products, amortizing the products’ developmental costs over their ‘mature’ period. However, the accelerating pace of change almost guarantees quicker product obsolescence and thus shorter ‘mature’ product lifespans. It will become increasingly likely that many, if not most, new products’ commercial lifespans will be ever shorter as the pace of technological progress continually accelerates. New products will become obsolete ever more quickly. Thus, businesses and industries will need to adopt their product development and accounting models to ever more quickly (if not immediately) recoup development costs, and will need to continuously improve and update their products more and more. Financial profits relying on a durable ‘mature’ phase of products’ lifespans will increasingly become an obsolete concept.

Increasingly frenetic need for businesses and industries to change. Indeed, the paces of change engendered by the three laws clearly mean that businesses and entire industries will have to adapt to ever‑accelerating changes. If they don’t quickly adapt, they will fail. A newspaper executive who was unfamiliar with the dynamics of the three laws and the unprecedented technological changes they are engendering, recently asked me, “When will all the change in our industry end?” Although I was tempted to joke, “Next Thursday,” the changes affecting his and others’ industries aren’t about to stop but will accelerate until the paces of change become, well, somewhat mind-boggling. Only an economic depression or widespread war can slow or stop the ever-accelerating pace of technological change. Otherwise, an ever-widening array of traditional products, tradition business models, traditional business practices, traditional devices, and traditional trades and employments will increasingly be disrupted, uprooted, replaced, or eliminated. This has begun to happen and will happen ever more quickly than during previous years, decades, or centuries. It means increasing instability for traditional companies and traditional industries. There will be ever more business mergers, bankruptcies, closures, even failures of entire industries. Some industries will meld or incidentally blur with others. (For example, who a decade ago would have predicted that Nokia, rather than Kodak, would become the world’s largest manufacturer of consumer cameras? Or that Nokia, which had the world’s dominant share the mobile phone handset market, would itself largely implode within the span of only four years? Or Apple Computer Company would become a major vendor of recorded music and of mobile phone handsets?) As the pace of technological changes continues to accelerate and waves of change come ever more quickly, businesses and industries will need to implement organizational and production changes ever more quickly to survive. One can’t surf behind a wave of change. The most successful organizations during the 21st Century will be those that can predict the figurative hydrodynamics of its environment and ride ahead of each wave.

Brand names are decreasingly a defense against change or decline. As the pace of technological advancements continues to accelerate, as waves of change become ever more frequent and the ‘mature’ phase of products and services become ever shorter, traditional companies that hope their established brands will extenuate or palliate that turbulence or turmoil will discover that the ‘goodwill’ value of their brands will become increasingly less. There primarily are two factors for this:

The first is simply that the inertial momentum of an establish brand can itself hobble or thwart that adaptation. A long-established brand can easily become an anchor, chaining consumers’ perceptions of that company to its old and now obsolete products rather than adapted products. For examples, during the past decade separate studies by the Medill University’s Readership Institute and by the  Media Management and Transformation Centre at Jönköping International Business School in Sweden have shown that many United States daily newspapers’ established brands, brands established and known for printed newsprint products, imparted no greater, and even sometimes negative, value to those same companies’ products put online. Consumers identify the brand with the old, not the new. Early in 2000 during a conference in New York City, the chief of Time Warner’s online efforts was asked what his corporation’s New Media strategy was. “We don’t yet fully understand the changes going on,” he said. “But Time Warner has been one of a handful of great media corporations during the 20th Century. So, we expect our brand to be one of the great New Media corporations during the 21st Century, just like American Online, Amazon, Ebay, PayPal, Google, and Yahoo!” I don’t think he realized the unintentional paradox of his claiming that his corporation’s will axiomatically place it among wildly successful New Media companies whose own brands were virtually unknown or even non-existent only nine years earlier. (Or the irony of how later that year his corporation would itself be purchased by one of those brands –, in the most financially disastrous merger in business history.)

The second and more ultimately powerful reason why brands are decreasingly a defense against change or decline is that the branding’s rise as what had been a formidable marketing tool was rooted in scarcity. Brand initially arose as logotypes in cultures centuries ago when few people could read. A wooden carving of a shoe, hanging above the entrance to a shoemaker’s or cobbler’s shop showed the illiterate what that business was. Names themselves later became brands and logotypes. The strength of brands or logotypes lay in providing consumers with a sense of comfort and reliability about those brands’ or logotypes’ products or services. Having relatively scarce access to current reviews of all similar products and services available, perhaps seeing a review for one or another of those products or services one a year or less in a monthly magazine, consumers bought the product or service a brand they knew or perhaps trusted from previous purchases. As James Surowiecki of The New Yorker magazine recently remarked:

“When consumers had to rely on advertisements and their past experience with a company, brands served as proxies for quality: if a car was made by G.M., or a ketchup by Heinz, you assumed that it was pretty good. It was hard to figure out if a new product from an unfamiliar company was reliable or not, so brand loyalty was a way of reducing risk. As recently as the nineteen-eighties, nearly four-fifths of American car buyers stayed loyal to a brand.

“Today, consumers can read reams of research about whatever they want to buy…..what’s weakened the power of brands is the Internet, which has given ordinary consumers easy access to expert reviews, user reviews, and detailed product data, in an array of categories. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that eight percent of consumers look at online reviews before making major purchases, and a host of studies have logged the strong influence of those reviews have on the decisions people make. The rise of social media has accelerated the trend to an astonishing degree: a dud product can become a laughingstock in a matter of hours.”[3]

What has caused that is the epochal switch from relative scarcity to surplus in people’s access and choices of information about products and services. Some traditional branding consultants, attempting to adjust to that switch, claim that brands become ever more important now that consumers no have relative scarce access to information. Yet Surowiecki and others note that a recent study by Ernest & Young reported that only 25 percent of Americans said that brand loyalty now affects how they shop.

Start-up companies have an ever-increasing advantage over traditional ones. If there’s a fourth ‘law’ atop the three I’ve mentioned, it’s Darwin’s[4], which dictates that in a changing environment the nimblest and the quickest to adapt have advantage over the biggest, fleetest, best fed, or the even sharpest-toothed. The ever-accelerating paces of changes favor start-up companies and start-up innovators (although too many attempt innovation without first understanding the underlying dynamics of the changes).

Academia will tend to adapt ever more slowly in proportion to the changes underway and certainly ever more slowly than people, companies, or industries do. A prime reason why is that most academics are employed for their expertise in traditional practices. They tend to be older individuals, many of whom haven’t worked for years (sometimes very many years or even decades) in the professions or trades that they teach. Changes can undercut their expertise. The faster the changes, the more insecure these older academicians can become and the more likely they will be to resist those changes, no matter if the changes have become manifest in their professions or trades. These older academicians hold senior positions (department chairman, faculty senators, etc.) and have tenure in institutions where the doctrine of Academic Freedom[5] is considered inviolate, so feel no great motivation to adapt their syllabi and teach something different that is becoming manifest. Many do adapt, but many others prefer to continue teaching what they best: the expertise of earlier times. Compounding this resistance, younger academicians who seek tenure, a sinecure granted by senior academicians, often find its pursuit safer if they focus on traditional rather than changed practices, particularly when changes are accelerating and volatile. That is particularly true of those younger academicians who’ve never actually worked in the professions or trades they teach, who’ve become academicians immediately after their own graduations. These overall systemic problems tend to make academia lag, even resist, at adapting to changes.

The law lags ever more behind. The slowest of all sectors of society to adapt to change are laws and regulations. These will lag ever further as the change accelerates. The number of discrepancies, incongruities, and outright collisions between old laws and the new capabilities of technologies will increase not only in number but spread to codicils yet untouched. This is primarily because laws and regulations, rather than foster revolutionary change, tend to protect the companies and industries that are traditional and well-established. Those companies and industries, and their lobbyists, use laws and regulations as cudgels against prospects of change. Yet however blunt or heavy, these legislative and regulatory cudgels ultimately never reach far enough, matter how bloodied, change ineluctably wins.

One observable macro-effect of the three laws’ interactions is the ending to the ‘Digital Divide’ (i.e., poor people not being able to afford computer technologies and online services). The effects of Moore’s Law constantly decrease the expense of technologies. Likewise, Cooper’s and Butters’ Laws is constantly increasing the ease and access by which people can connect and use such technologies. During the Industrial Era, decades used to elapse before the poor could afford the technologies of the rich, but the meteoric pace of change brought by computerization is ever shortening that lapse. For examples, there are now more mobile phones used by Africans than Europeans or North Americans, despite those two other continents having more than 20-times Africa’s per capital incomes. A recent survey in Honduras, the second poorest country in the Americas, found that even the lowest-income households (i.e., those likely to lack running water) possessed not only a mobile phone (handset street price equivalent to USD5 plus rechargeable ‘pay-as-you-go’ calling credits) but a LCD‑screen DVD player (street price USD20) and a microwave oven (which are cheaper to purchase than conventional ovens and require no physical installation). A few years ago in South Africa, I met a successful local entrepreneur whose business in the huge ghetto township in which he resided was to solicit collection of  mobile phone videos of weddings, anniversaries, and other events, and to turn those videos into DVDs, which he then sold for $0.50 each as an electronic form of community newspaper. He succeeded because so many people in the township owned mobile phones and DVD players.

Poor countries are beginning to afford and utilize advanced technologies that only rich countries had been able to afford. In some cases, poor countries are leap-frogging rich countries in technological infrastructure. Countries such as Mongolia or Montenegro now have more advanced telephone infrastructures than do the United States or the United Kingdom, simply because not only are new technologies for telephones now less expensive to purchase but are easier to install in less developed countries that don’t have vested legacies and that delay installing advancement until the costs of older technologies are amortized. Moore’s and Cooper’s laws made mobile telephony relatively inexpensive and easier to deploy than copper-wired telephony.  Meanwhile, Moore’s and Butters’ laws are causing wired systems to be replaced by photonics, which is phenomenally cheaper signal-carrying capacity/costs than copper wire.

Increasingly large technological gaps within peer groups. Although the three laws’ interactions are closing the ‘Digital Divide’, an odd macro‑effect is that the interactions are causing technological fissures within peer groups. When the paces of change were slower, the technologies affordable and used by a demographic rank were generally the same for long durations. For example, audio recordings sold in the form of vinyl discs for gramophones (i.e., phonographs), a technology invented in 1889, were for some 100 years the primary musical entertainment technology for consumers. Audio recorded on Compact Discs (‘CDs’) began superseding gramophone discs around 1989, but themselves had much shorter popularity before beginning to be superseded in turn by directly downloaded audio recordings. For video recordings, the progression from Video Home System (‘VHS’) tapes to Digital Versatile Discs (‘DVD’s) to directly downloaded video recordings showed even shorter technological ‘half-lives’. The progression from analog mobile telephone handsets to digital ones to Internet-equipped digital ones to broadband Internet-equipped digital ones to ‘smartphones’ has shown remarkably short technological ‘half-lives’.  Consumers have to adjust to new technologies ever more quickly.

The result is that households within demographic peer groups are increasingly less likely to all be using the same levels of technology. This result occurs less among younger peer groups, who always tend to adapt more quickly than any other demographic, but this result is becoming ever more easily observable among older peer groups. It seems increasingly unlikely that all consumers—even most peers within a demographic rank—will ever again all be using the same platform, nonetheless using any one platform for a decade or more. Our grandparents or parents might have used gramophone records or Compact Discs for decades, but our children probably won’t use any one medium platform or device for long. Last year in a popular restaurant in my town, I overhead a foursome of ladies in their seventies discuss whether or not they used personal computers much, while nearly another table of women the same age was comparing various speech-to-text software programs. Wide technological gaps like that within a common demographic were highly unlikely in previous generations, but will probably be common occurrence for the future. As science fiction writer William Gibson quipped, “The future is here, just unevenly distributed.”

The best skill to learn is how to learn new skills. During previous centuries and generations, the skill one learned young generally was the skill one used all one’s life. For example, if you apprenticed as a baker, it was very likely that you’d be a baker all your life. However, this dynamic began ending two or three generation ago, and has now become ever more unlikely. It’s not unusual for educated people in developed countries to have not only more than one job during their lifetimes, but a career spent in more than one industry. As the ever-accelerating paces of change make previous technologies increasingly obsolete, and with those obsolete technologies more and more businesses, trades, and industries, archaic, obsolete (‘disrupted’), or defunct, many skills learned young (such as in college) will also become archaic, obsolete, or defunct. This new dynamic will put increasing pressure on the traditional system of providing education primarily before people are aged in their mid-twenties. People that old have the majority of their careers ahead of them, during which they will experience an extraordinary amount of changes – likely more changes than all previous human generations combined. They will thus probably need constant retraining and continuing education rather than relying upon only what they learned in consecutive years of secondary and higher education during their teens and early twenties. They will need to learn how constantly to learn new skills. I believe the business models of colleges and universities, in order for such institutions to survive and be relevant in the 21st Century, must change to focus primarily on continuing education rather simply than educating young people.

Increasingly polarized societies. Fear of change is called metathesiophobia. Change causes anxiety and stress in most people: indeed, in most creatures. History holds many precedents showing that when stressed by change, large numbers of people will seek comfort in traditional values, theories, and practices, rather than accept change. As the English historian A.P.J. Taylor explained (using the British term for this macro-effect), “Toryism rests on doubt in human nature; it distrusts improvement, clings to traditional institutions, and prefers the past to the future. It is a sentiment rather than a principle.” (Some historical examples are the Roman Catholic Church’s retreat from, and later persecution of Galileo and other heliocentrics; the German people’s conservative electoral swerve during the Great Depression; or the rise of the American conservative movement once the practical limits of United States global hegemony or power were reached during the 1970s.) Many people, including those who offer pay lip-service to change, retreat into the seeming sanctuary of tradition as a defense against change. This sociological effect by itself exacerbates cultural or industrial adaption to change, creating turbulence, difficulties, and polarization of large segments of society. Given the ever‑accelerating paces of Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ Laws, those problems might become more formidable, even chaotic, during coming years.

An appointment with Fermi’s Paradox. Indeed, as Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ laws double their paces every nine to 30 months, creating hyperbolic technological progress, some reputable futurists believe that during the first half of this century the sheer pace of change — unless checked by war or economic depression — will ultimately skyrocket so rapidly it will merge into a ‘singularity’ that will “rupture the fabric of human history”. According to their predictions, new products, services, business models, even new ideas, will eventually become almost instantly obsolete, almost immediately replaced by newer, until our technological capabilities will eclipse our caution and comprehension. This concept of a technological ‘singularity’, which some other futurists criticize as alarmist or as a techno-utopian fantasy, might seem absurd to laymen, yet the observable validity of Moore’s, Cooper’s, Butters’ laws, and similar dynamics, indicates its possibility. I hope the truth will be somewhere between those two contrasting views. Perhaps people’s (i.e., individual’s, households’, industries’, societies’, and governments’) limited human capabilities to deal with such a pace of change will create a sufficient behavioral constraint on such hyperbolic changes that no mind-boggling absurdities become reality. If not, however, the instabilities of human actions or reactions to ever-accelerating technologies will probably lead to war or economic chaos or worse: human inability to be a species that transcends what’s known as Fermi’s Paradox. During a casual lunchtime conversation with other physicists in 1950, the Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi ventured a series of rapid calculations estimating that the probabilities of earthlike planets and possible intelligent life elsewhere among the billions of stars in our galaxy are good; that some of those other forms of intelligent forms might be millions or billions of years more advanced than humans; and that such unimaginably advanced civilizations might have technologies that easily permit or otherwise have had time for vast interstellar travels. Yet “Where are they?” a mystified Fermi exclaimed. That scientific mystery has become known as Fermi’s paradox. Many possible answers to it have been postulated, one of which is that technological civilizations may usually or invariably destroy themselves before or shortly after developing nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.

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