I saw today in San Diego’s Balboa Park a wonderful example of early 20th century technology. The ‘horseless carriage’ was what they called it at the time. This quaint name recalls a bygone era but it also brings up something more profound.
To those living in the 1908 world, the term horseless carriage made perfect sense. It contextualized a set of new features, functions and abilities in language that everyone understood. After all, everyone had grown up with horse-drawn carriages.
This translation into the ordinary language of the day also imposed massive limitations on the creativity that the automobile would need over the next 100 years. Without a doubt, the car reshaped our economy, our work, our geography, our recreation and the way we live each and every day. The term ‘horseless carriage’ provided no hint of this potential. It just worked in the moment.
We have a very similar situation today with what we call ‘mobile phones’. To those who grew up in pre-mobile times, a phone was a single-purpose device attached to a wall that required waiting until 5 PM to call your grandparents. What creativity are we stifling by thinking of it that way?
My four year old daughter has never lived in a world without cell phones. I’m not sure she even sees my iPhone as a phone in the traditional sense. Think of how much advantage that gives her generation…
There can be no doubt that the same challenge applies.