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How Technology Changes Everything

by Jen Buss

Technology is constantly improving our lives. Each year dozens of new technologies and products are invented that change the way we live day to day. New apps are developed, new sensors to measure our biofeedback, and new safety features for our cars, and so on. Occasionally, a technology is developed that is not just evolutionary but revolutionary and drastically changes society.

The impact that technology has on society occurs in roughly three phases. Initially, technology helps us do things better. The first impact of most technologies is to make existing process work faster or better. These are what we define as phase I impacts. Later, a new technology often inspires entirely new processes that would not be possible without the technology. We call these phase II impacts. Even later new technologies begin to change entire systems, industries, or even governments. We develop whole new platforms, culture and/or society shifts, or the market does things completely unexpected. We call these phase III impacts.

There are several examples of phase I, II, and III impacts in the past decades.

Consider the multi-phase impacts of the computer on business operations and processes. During phase I, computer word processors made the existing process of business communication, secretaries and typing pools, faster. During phase II, business communication changed from memos to emails, removing the need for secretaries and typing pools, thus creating a new set of business communications processes. During phase III, businesses and industries restructured and reorganized. Two decades ago one needed a very expensive international infrastructure to market and sell globally. Today, anyone with a computer, a Fedex, Amazon, or Google, account can market and sell from one’s living room.

Another example of multi-phase impacts can be seen in the printing industry. Phase I impacts are that most, maybe all, former print media, newspapers, magazines, etc. are now delivered and mostly read online; faster delivery of formal media via electronic communication. The phase II impacts are the fact that formal publishers are a struggling business. Many authors self publish today through blogs, online journals, social media, etc. The emergence of new processes is the hallmark of phase II impacts. Phase III impacts sustain a large restructuring of the way society obtains their news and entertainment. The major newspapers, TV networks, and publishers are no longer the primary source of information for many people. A growing majority receives their news and information directly from those participating in the news via video, tweets, blogs, and real-time connectivity.

As technology continues to impact, influence, and change our society at an ever increasing rate, we should expect its effects to be seen and felt from phase I through phase III in ever increasing and interesting ways.