Often when a new technology comes along, people worry. There are perhaps things they like about what they have now that they fear will go away forever. But when you look at how new technologies have grown up, historically, that rarely happens.
There are three main thresholds to break for a new technology to succeed: value, quality and usefulness. I may have missed others, but they’re the main ones.
Take the Kindle: at the first launch it was poor value, ugly (which is sort of an aesthetic quality), heavier that you’d like (which affects usefulness) and didn’t have a fantastic selection. By the time the Kindle 3 came, it had an affordable price, a simple, good design, was light to hold and had a huge selection of books to choose from. A Kindle is now comparably useful in most ways to a real book, and more useful in some ways, which is why I can no longer take the tube home without seeing several Kindle owners.
Or digital music. Initially the value was very good: illegal internet downloads for free. But the quality was variable and they took a long time to download. As better bandwidth became available, the average quality went up to what the vast majority of people would call acceptable levels, and people started making devices which could hold an awful lot of music on the move, so it became useful. While services like iTunes charge money, it’s cheaper than getting a CD at the shops.
You can think of value, quality and usefulness as natural filters that stop a technology from going big before it’s ready. But they also ensure there’s room for old technology, because everyone measures v, q and u differently. It’s rare that something genuinely new comes along that is cheaper, higher quality and more useful than the old thing in every single way. And if it happens, great! Nobody should care about keeping the old technology, except for nostalgia and historical interest.
Usually, though, there’s some ways in which the old stuff has an edge. Some people prefer the quality of the analogue sound in vinyl, and it plays a big part in DJing, so you can still get it. Books still win out over eBooks when it comes to things like picture quality and when you need to flick quickly through pages to find something. Plus there’s no up-front cost before you can start buying books, so it’ll be a very long time before people run out of reasons to pick them up.
This isn’t to say there won’t be problems, or some things won’t fall by the wayside. I mean, Betamax, anyone? But who really won out between Betamax and VHS? I’ll tell you who: DVD, which is now in the process of being succeeded itself.
You can’t stop this change, or the short-term disruptions and kinks in the path of progress. You just have to trust that the best value, highest quality and most useful technologies filter up to the top, in the long term, and tend to stick around as long as they’re still useful. Keep this in mind, next time you think that the next big thing is going to ruin everything. Or perhaps, when someone else does, you can just point them here.