When asked to think about how new inventions might shape the future, our imaginations tend to leap to technologies that are sophisticated beyond comprehension.
In the iconic movie Bladerunner, the sophisticated technology being imagined are intelligent androids that are indistinguishable from ‘real’ humans – even to themselves.
Yet when asked to picture how everyday life might look in a society sophisticated enough to build such biological androids, our imaginations falter.
Decker (the detective) calls the (sophisticated beyond comprehension) android Rachael from a pay phone. We can imagine an intelligent android but not the cell phone! Yet it is the cell phone that has had the most profound influence on our lives.
As the author states, many world-changing inventions hide in plain sight … too cheap to remark on, even as they quietly reorder everything. This can be called the “toilet-paper principle” which suggests that we should be paying as much attention to the cheapest technologies as to the most sophisticated. Examples of ‘toilet paper’ (past and future) are:
- Barbed wire
- Electric motors
- Shipping containers
What will be the ‘toilet paper’ technologies of the future that will reorder our lives? They need to be pursued alongside the truly transformational paradigm shifting innovations that attract all the attention (and take more time than anyone expects).