Confusing technology
Photo: Reuters

Times they are a changin'

Those who fail to anticipate change are doomed to let the world pass them by

Nikon cameras announced last month that it would stop producing film cameras. It was the last of the major manufacturers to do so.


Minolta has already merged with Konica and no longer exists. Canon and Olympus announced this year that they would be manufacturing digital cameras only. And shortly after that announcement, Fuji also said that it would stop making film cameras, following last June's announcement by Eastman-Kodak that it would no longer produce the paper required for black and white photo developing, putting a lid on a 100-year practice.


Nostalgia lovers will surely continue to use film and develop their photos on the closed in balcony off the bathroom that has been converted into a dark room. Yet they are about as relevant as those people who insist on listening to vinyl records or using manual typewriters. They are out of touch.


Quick change


That amazing thing is that it has all happened in less than three years. An entire industry, global, multimillion-dollar business wiped out, without warning or hint.


CEOs with three-piece suits and wan smiles explain in patronizing tones that this could never happen to them, that THEIR industries are way too strong, that everyone knows them. No way are people actually going to download photos of their Greek holidays from the computer to get them printed and album-ready.


But things do change, often before we know what's happening. One day you get up in the morning and something that seems eternal and invincible disappears from your world.


iPod replaces the Discman, the Hapsburg Dynasty collapses, and the shoemakers close up shop.


From phone to Skype


A relative of mine bought the 'Skype' program and showed me how it works. Truth is, there was nothing to explain. It looks like a telephone and sounds like a telephone. The only difference is that a local call in Tel Aviv on a Bezeq land line costs 12.4 agurot a minute while a call on Skype to New York is 9 agurot a minute.


No one cares that the connection is made through the Internet. Why? For the same reason we turn on the electricity when we enter a dark room. We don’t care if the power station operates on oil, coal or atomic energy; the important thing is that the light goes on.


Human history is full of similar examples. Only a few months ago, Yisrael Katz, a former government minister from the Likud, told a reporter, "Even if the Tunisian president becomes the chairman of the Likud, we’ll win the elections."


MK Katz is right now in 12th place on the Likud’s Knesset slate. Polls indicate this should guarantee him a seat in the next Knesset. So far, at least.


Not that anyone can really blame Katz, not if they remember the words of Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM who refused to invest in the development of personal computers at the time on the premise that "the world market is capable of absorbing maybe five computers."


Failing to anticipate


Mankind has not yet learned to expect these changes from the onset. Not so long ago, the second most powerful country in the world was the Soviet Union. If my memory serves me right, it no longer exists. Together with it, an entire generation of Sovietologists disappeared -- 30 billion dollars of unnecessary research which failed to predict the death of the ' Evil Empire.'


Those days I was a kid who went to demonstrations opposite the Romanian embassy holding placards reading 'Let my people go.' I wore (black) t-shirts made by "Topper," the predecessor to today's trendy "Fox" label. Trendy, fashionable, and successful.


Was Topper’s management less talented then than Fox management is now? I doubt it. They just didn’t read the writing on the wall correctly or refused to admit it was there.


Most people know, deep inside, when they are no longer in fashion. They just don't do anything about it. Anyone who works in TV like I do knows he works in a profession that is on the brink of a total revolution.


Increasing options


Last week I was in New York on a lecture tour. Afterwards, I sat in my hotel room with two buddies and watched the Maccabee Tel Aviv - Maccabee Haifa soccer game on my computer screen. The high quality transmission came through loud and clear and when Berkowitz missed that up the goal, the housekeeper jumped out of her skin from the screams she heard.


Mind you, this is only one viewing option today. In the near future, it will be possible to record or download using an electronic converter, or record on cell phones that have DVB-H.


More people saw the recent concert for Africa on a local network or via the Internet than on their home TVs. How long before Israelis figure out that one is not required to watch their favorite shows when the commercial networks determine or watch 14 minutes of commercials every hour?


Hmmm….remember how long we said it took for companies to stop making film?


Who wants change?


"Everyone wants change," former U.S. President Bill Clinton once said. "But no one wants to be changed." We live in a fast new world, where laws are formed in motion.


The service department for the computer on which I am writing these lines is in India. The computer was assembled in China out of parts sent from Korea, and delivered by an Ethiopian courier who travels on a Japanese-made moped. The carton was made in Singapore by laborers from Bangladesh and was adapted for Hebrew by a new immigrant from Russia who received his training at an American company.


The first time my dad saw his five-year-old grandson Lior playing on the computer he looked at him and mused, "First they shrunk the computers, now they are shrinking the users.”


Of all tests confronting Israel today, this is the most crucial. Do we intend to spend the next few years dealing with our fears or our future? Anyone who refuses to understand the world as a dynamic place, that changes its shape and its laws constantly, will not survive.


Those who would choose to divide us into rich vs. poor, Ashkenazi vs. Sephardi, nationalists vs. not-quite-nationalistic-enough, mandate us into a stagnant, conservative society, are likely to miss the changes going on right over our heads.


It wouldn't be the first time. In 1876, Western Union released an internal report which said: "The telephone has too many limitations to take it seriously."


They were obviously anticipating Skype.


פרסום ראשון: 03.01.06, 11:45
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