Watch for it

Dick Tracy WatchOne of the delightful things about innovation and technology changes is seeing the unintended impacts. While delightful to find, they are vexing to predict.

This is not a particularly new one, but I noticed it in an article today at SignOnSanDiego:

Wristwatch sales have slowed – down 25 percent for Timex between 2003 and 2005 – as teens and young adults tell time by their phones.

The effect on landline phones, the rise of text messaging, and even to some extend, the impact on cameras were all foreseen as cell phones became ubiquitous and feature-laden models became cheap.

But who predicted watch sales wouldn’t keep on ticking apace?

What was predicted turned out backwards. In the 1940s, the comic strip Dick Tracy had the detective talking into a wristwatch — not telling time on a phone.

Innovations — large and small — produce unintended, or unplanned, side effects.

A small example. Being a math-challenged journalist makes a calculator a handy tool. I couldn’t find one today in desk if I had to. It’s buried deep in some drawer. Google’s search box makes it dead simple to do 6,853 / 17 = 403.117647 without one.

Has Google hurt the calculator business … well, yes, at least by one customer. Yet, no one I recall envisioned “search’ as a replacement for the calculator.

Identifying early these unplanned side effects is where opportunity lies. It takes a sort of peripheral thinking to see them and it’s a talent I haven’t developed.

Have you? Do you see examples of social and use patterns changing in an unplanned way? I’d love some more examples or tips on how to spot them?

(via Steve Rubel)