The pace of change accelerates

To the Times 09 October 2005


Matthew Parris (08 October 2005) returns to a previous theme when he claims that the rate of change in the world has slowed. In reality it continues to accelerate.

Take military affairs: George Washington could have intelligently discussed strategy with Eisenhower or Caesar. None of the three could begin to understand today's smart weapons.

Take holidays: the annual trip to a nearby seaside resort was unchallenged as a British tradition until the 1970s. Matthew Parris owns a holiday home in Spain and loves to hike in the Andes.

This puts into perspective Parris's claim that nothing of importance, outside IT, has been invented for fifty years. True, 40 years after Apollo, the military and communications implications are stunning, but the non-IT civil applications are minimal. The same argument could have been used to show that the railway, the motor car and the aeroplane were unimportant 40 years after they were invented.

Sometimes the lag is even greater. Indoor plumbing was invented by the Romans and reached the majority of the British population within living memory.

Of the millions of patents awarded in the last 50 years, some will turn out to be blind alleys. Others - perhaps space flight, perhaps nano-technology, perhaps genetic modification - will change the world completely. Only time will tell. As it did with previous inventions.

Yours faithfully

Quentin Langley

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