The iPhone was released 12 years ago.
Social media is only 15 years old.
Virtual reality in its retail form is 7 years old. Or less.
Autonomous driving on a mass appeal is barely 5.
It’s easy to lose sight of how young these products really are. We see emerging tech daily in the news or in conversation with friends. Their constant presence makes it feel like it was always this way. But the reality is they have been around for less time than almost 80% of the world’s population.
Coca-Cola is 127 years old.
Multiple generations have consumed it. Grandma, grandpa, Uncle Joe and little Timmy.
Most have not thought anything of this. Sure the dangers of sugar in excess are becoming more prevalent on today’s national stage, but for the last 75 years, it’s been somewhat smooth sailing for the overlords of soda. Produce the drink, sell it, go about your day.
It wasn’t always like that, though.
In 1909, when Coca-Cola was still a young company, boisterous, successful, and breaking onto the scene like nothing anyone had seen, the United States seized 40 barrels and twenty kegs of it. Men in suits with badges and guns stormed in. They seized all the soda they could find.
But why? How could a fizzy drink cause such outrage?
Everyone was worried about a mysterious added ingredient: caffeine. It was suspected to cause serious health problems. Could it be a drug? Should it be legal? Why is everyone drinking and raving about this new drink?
This happened more than 100 years ago. Imagine armed guards today storming into a building and seizing soda. “Everybody down!”
Today, the trial is known as United States v. Forty Barrels & Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola. That is really the name of the trial. Newspaper headlines everywhere, outrage, and suspicion. Must sound familiar. At Thanksgiving, families gathered.
Grandma: “They need to get that off our streets!”
Grandson: “I can feel the boost! This is the future!”
The characters in this story are different, but the theme seems to repeat itself. Autonomous driving, crypto, social media, the list goes on. Still in debate, still quick to form an opinion even with only a few years of real history or data to work with. Steve Ballmer, the co-founder of Microsoft, once fell victim to such rushed judgement.
“Who would use such an expensive product without a keyboard.”
“People want to email!”
That’s what Ballmer first said about the iPhone. Before he had yet to truly use it, study it, or give it time to unfold. Imagine how different the world would be if he instead slowed down and actually studied it. He probably would have built one similar. We probably would have Microsoft phone.
There’s a reason why quotes like, “history favors the bold” are widely cited and why quotes like, “history favors the critics” or “history favors the pessimists” do not exist. Bold inventions have repeatedly pushed forward productivity and standards of living. There aren’t many examples in history where the opposite is true – stop building, keep doing the same, and that will lead to better lives for all.
In 1950, only 2% of people had a dishwasher. Today, nearly 80% have a dishwasher. In 1970, only 31% of people had a color TV. Today, more than 90% have a smartphone that does 100x more than that color TV. If autonomous driving becomes a thing, an estimated 80 million people will have an extra two hours in their day to read, watch, write, or sleep while their car drives them from point A to point B.
The rate of technology is increasing. It’s compounding. It will only get more uncomfortable as we race to understand its progress. But before the pitchforks and torches come out, whether right or wrong, remember we’ve been here, in some fashion, and there are lessons to help to make the right decisions that go as far back as United States vs Forty Barrels & Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola.
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