A lesson from my grandmother on technological progress

Advances in technology sometimes require a step backward in functionality

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My late grandmother was a wise and tough lady. She was always ready (and quite able) to explain her position on a subject and make very clear that it would only be theoretically possible to have a different opinion; in (her) practice, it wouldn’t make sense to think otherwise. Having said that, with many little rhymes, she had many pearls of wisdom she would throw around.

Some of her thoughts wouldn’t come in rhymes, but were just strong observations. One day, she told me about a time she got a new bicycle, and how very proud of it she was. This one had a dynamo attached, as opposed to the old-fashioned carbide-powered light she had before. It was the latest and greatest, and the bicycle shop was very proud of their new products. While she was out on the bicycle one winter evening, she had to stop to look where to go. Then all of a sudden, total darkness.

Of course, when the wheels stop turning, the dynamo stops working, and the lights stop. The result: a completely scared young lady (darkness in those days was still total darkness), and a total surprise as to who on earth would invent such a stupid thing. She couldn’t believe people could design something like that.

It’s only recently, probably something like 90 years later, that our bikes have a dynamo powered front light with a built-in battery to keep the light burning. My grandmother would have shaken her head at that innovation speed.

Sometimes, technology forward implies a functionality step backward. Let’s be clear, that isn’t a bad thing, as I’ve written about before. Sometimes it’s really the only way to go to avoid things ending up in disaster.

However, some old features were actually quite useful, and it shouldn’t take 90 years before the new technology stack picks them up. Keep your users happy, imagine explaining it to my grandmother: be prepared!

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