The Technium


[Translations: Japanese]


Simultanology: stuff that operates in real time, just as we do.

ATMs were a case of banking simultanology. Why should you have to wait to go to the bank during the day when you needed cash at night, right now? Paypal and its kin are simaliar simultanology: Pay now! Much of what we consider modern is really whatever moves us toward real time interactions.

Lately I’ve notice two new examples of simultanology in my own life.

Netflix Instant Watch. Something strange has happened to our viewing habits as Netflix’s collection of Instant Watch movies has increased. We no longer watch many on disc. The red envelopes just sit there. Even though Netflix’s disc catalog is about 10 times larger and higher quality than their streaming catalog, if a movie is not available on streaming we ignore it. We find another one that is instant. Netflix’s two day turnaround (where we live) is not fast enough.

Kindle Wish List. Like most of you, I bought books before I intended to read them. If I spied a cool book in a book store and it looked like something I would eventually read, I bought it. Even after the Great Migration to Online, I would still purchase books I intended to read when I came across them. My physical library expanded as I encountered more and more references to desirable books online. I stockpiled these in part because that way I would have the new book on hand when I was ready to read it. Amazon’s two day delivery was not fast enough.

When the Kindle came along and I switched to primarily purchasing only digital books, I kept the old habit of purchasing Kindle books whenever I encounter a good one, or was recommended a great one. It was so easy! Click, click, got the book.

A few months ago, I had an epiphany (I am sure others have had it as well). It was one of those moments that could run in a Kindle commercial. I was standing at a dusty bus stop in Bursa, Turkey. I had a very long bus ride ahead of me, but I had already finished my last book. No worry, I had my Kindle. So I stood there at a crossroads in Turkey and ordered a book. In less than 5 minutes, there it is was in front of my eyes. Yes, this is what technology is about! But later I realized something: I did not need to purchase Kindle books ahead of time! Since I could download a particular book at any time and anywhere in the world, why should I ever purchase a book more than 5 minutes before I will read it? If I purchase a book ahead of time it just sits in the same place that a book I have not bought sits (in the cloud) but in the paid bucket instead of he unpaid bucket. Why not just leave it in the unpaid bucket? So that is what I am doing now. I won’t order a book until I am ready to start reading it this minute. Now I add them to my Amazon Wish List for latter purchase. It’s sort of just-in-time-purchasing.

People’s time is the scarce resource, and there has been a long movement in business beginning decades ago to save the customer time. Instant coffee, microwave food, drive-thrus, self-service stores were all part of that thrust. But saving time, that is reducing how long something takes, is only a part of the story. The omega point for all these services and goods is to keep reducing lag time until it operates in real time. The goal is not really to eliminate the amount of time spent doing something (since that may be what is sold) but in making sure it happens in real time. Streaming Netflix does not reduce how much we watch (it actually increases it); rather it shifts the watching to real time.

Right now simulatnology is rampant on the web. Anything that can be communicated can be communicated instantly. Thats’ good news for intangible goods and services. But it wasn’t always that way. In the pre-web days of the internet, documents used to be stored in public at ftp sites. There was a period of several years when folks would go to a ftp site and download all the files, because like books, you never knew when you might need them. It took a while to realize that having continuous immediate access to the files was better than downloading them before hand. You only downloaded them when you were ready to.

While the media has been very well served by simultanology, there’s much in the rest of our lives that has yet to become real time. Medicine for one. Why the delay in diagonstics, test results, and applying remedies? Education is not real time enough, although that is changing (see Khan Academy). Most of governance and politics is far from real time. And we need more simmultanology in science and discovery.


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