The question of whether the chicken or the egg came first has vexed humanity for thousands of years. Even Aristotle and Goethe had a rough time working out this causality dilemma. And the philosophical aspect of the question pervaded even after Darwin proved the entire issue to be false – that there is no ‘first’ chicken or ‘first’ egg.
It could be that we are faced with the question again when it comes to technology for this reason. Which came first: the need or the technology? Does technology guide our needs or is it the other way around? Did the invention of the car spark our need for cars? Maybe back then we had a need for better carriages. But for cars? Not really. Did humanity call for the development of Bluetooth or SSDs?
It is difficult to identify a corresponding need for things that do not yet exist. As opposed to the chicken/egg, the answer, in this case, is clear: Technology needs to take the first step and show us what is possible.
But these things will dissipate again quickly if a need does not promptly materialize. Inventors’ trade shows regularly dazzle attendees with amazing accomplishments that generally do not fulfill a specific need, and by the next show these have been long since forgotten.
There exists a close interdependency between our needs and technology, as each spurns the other on. For example, we had no need for smartphones 15, 20 years ago. We were happy to actually find a place where we could make a phone call. Back then, nobody had a pressing need to purchase books or watch cat videos while waiting at the bus stop. But once we had access to smartphones, everybody wanted one, and it did not take long before users also wanted to purchase books or watch cat videos while waiting for the next bus. In retrospect, it actually looks like we had just been waiting for this invention.
So it seems that technology is creating new possibilities again and again, and we humans latch onto one when we believe it has value for us. And there will be times that we do not latch onto something and do not develop a need for it, even though companies tout the respective innovations with grandiose marketing. It is on these occasions that a technology heads down a dead end. Can anyone remember the videodisc? Nobody latched onto it because the format was cumbersome and too expensive. So, in this case, we were well advised to forget the videodisc.
Time and again, I find it fascinating to see how the developments in technology open new avenues, how ‘things’ become a need that we never before realized we actually needed, and that we consider them an essential part of lives today. Where did we view our beloved cat videos before we had the Internet? Could we even live without them?