Home Articles A chilling tale

    A chilling tale


    Illustration: Jonathan Towers

    There is an old expression that says, “Necessity is the mother of invention”.

    In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Necessity does not drive invention. Rather, new inventions come along and mess up everyone’s life. Take ice.

    Ice was once a fantastic business.

    Perhaps you are old enough to remember your grandmother’s or great grandmother’s ice box. This stood in the kitchen, and once a week the ice man came and delivered a block of ice. That was what kept the food cold and fresh.

    Ice was harvested in gigantic ice ponds. In the wintertime, ice was harvested from those ponds and stored in heavily insulated ice houses. A good ice house could keep its ice intact through the summer.

    Ice was such a good business, and the science of insulation so sophisticated, that by the middle of the 19th century, clipper ships delivered ice from places like New England, USA, all the way to India. One can imagine how the crowds swarmed the docks in Calcutta when an ice ship arrived.

    The ice business was a secure trade. Ice, after all, had been around since the Roman Emperors brought fresh snow down from the Appenines into Rome in the summertime to cool them. And by the mid-19th century, the ice industry was massive. There were delivery routes, ice tongs, ice ponds for harvesting, ice houses for storage, technologies to cut the ice… it was massive.

    Then, in 1876, Jacob Perkins, an American living in London, invented refrigeration.

    In a moment – in a stroke – the ice industry was over.

    The much-sought-after delivery routes, the seemingly invaluable ice ponds, the chain of delivery… all over, in a flash.

    A new technology had rendered the entire industry – an entire world – obsolete. And all the crying and complaining and whimpering did not a bit of good. It was over. Ice was dead.

    Technology is merciless.

    When a new technology comes along, one either adapts or dies. And death is both swift and certain.

    Darwin wrote that neither strength nor intelligence are the best traits for survival; it is the ability to adapt to change.

    Kodak was once the industry leader in photography. But when digital cameras came along, Kodak was arrogant. “We are film,” they said.

    Kodak could have owned digital photography. They were there first, had the market position and, had they moved quickly, could easily have adapted early. But they did not. They were too comfortable to see what a new technology was about to do to them. It destroyed them. Tell someone you have just bought a Kodak camera and watch their eyes.

    The arrival of the internet, and particularly video over the internet, is the equivalent of the invention of refrigeration: a fantastic new technology that in a stroke wipes out whole businesses, some of them seemingly rock solid. They are not.

    The entire world of media is about to change due to a new and very destructive technology. Those who adapt will evolve into something very different from what they are now. Those who fail to adapt will die.

    And what you have seen until now is only the tip of the iceberg… so to speak.

    Michael Rosenblum educates and consults on new media strategy through his New York-based firm, Rosenblum Associates. This is an edited reprint (with permission) of a post from his blog, rosenblumtv.wordpress.com