The history of technology is full to the brim with famous sayings which, with the passing of time, turned out to be serious mistakes.
To take up from where the post about the 7 myths of technology left off, I am going to summarise the mythical statements made throughout the history of technology that were totally erroneous. To kick off this lineal and chronological summary of erroneous quotes related to technology I would like to take you back to 1876, which was when an internal memo from Western Union categorically declared that: “The so-called ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us”. I don’t think that at this point of the 21st century and firmly established as we are in the digital age that there is any need to put forward any argument to prove the little hope they had in an invention that, 137 years later, has totally transformed our environment and the way in which we communicate was totally unfounded.
Along the same lines, 23 years later Charles H. Duell of the US Patents and Brands Office announced the end of human invention when he stated in 1899 that everything that could be invented had been invented. Mr Duell would certainly enter into a state of shock if he could see just how wrong he was with his own eyes following the sheer number of technological advances made between the beginning of the 20th century and the present day. Impossible as it may seem, although we believe that we have taken things as far as we can, every day technology surprises us with a new discovery.
The automotive industry has also generated more than its fair share famous quotes. We need go no further than the reasons given by the Chairman of the Bank of Michigan to Henry Ford’s lawyer for not investing the Ford Motor Company in 1903: “The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad“. The passage of time makes it more than obvious that the horse-proud banker’s eloquent statement was also way off the mark.
However, there is a technological sector that has generated more mythical statements than any other, and that is programming. It´s highly probable that if a certain editor at Prentice Hall were here with us today and had seen for himself just how far data processing has developed and the potential currently represented by Big Data, perhaps he would have thought twice before proclaiming in 1957 that: “I have travelled the length and breadth of this country, and have talked with the best people in business administration. I can assure you on the highest authority that data processing is a fad and won’t last out the year”.
Steve Jobs has also featured in some of the most famous technological anecdotes such as the resounding “NO” of Atari Chairman Joe Keenan when Jobs offered to sell him the rights to the first Apple computer in 1976. Or Hewlett Packard’s forceful “Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet” when made the same offer. You can be sure that Atari and Hewlett Packard are still asking themselves why they didn’t take that young 21-year old entrepreneur called Steve Jobs, who years later would go on to become the visionary and creative genius we know today, up on his offer.
McAfee and Norton are also up there with the best when it comes to famous quotes with their predictions about the future of computer viruses. In 1988 John McAfee was heard to say that: “The problem of viruses is temporary and will be solved in two years is temporary and will be solved in two years”, but perhaps even more surprising was Peter Norton’s statement of the same year that computer viruses were an urban legend. In this case every cloud definitely does have a silver lining as despite their totally inaccurate predictions their companies have since become two of the world’s leaders in the development of antivirus software.
But I shall end this brief summary of famous quotes on technology with one more, this time on the future of the Internet, another of the areas that gave rise to a large number of famous gaffs. This one fell from the lips of Guy Kawasaki who, in 1996, turned down the job of CEO of Yahoo saying: “How do you propose doing business with a search engine?” Surely Mr Kawasaki would not have turned the job down if he had trusted this business model, which is key for positioning any business on the Internet.
So,, think carefully about your reply before voicing your opinion on any idea related with technology, as the passing of time has a tendency of putting everyone in their place and your opinion might well end up forming part of this strange ranking of famous misguided statements.
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