September 20, 2020

Edison's World

Lately I’ve been reading a biography of Thomas Edison, one of history’s great tinkerers. (I recommend the book: Edison by Matthew Josephson.)

I’m amazed at how little the basic nature of the high-tech business has changed since Edison’s day. The products are different, but the business seems very much the same. Edison coped with – and used – vaporware, FUD, standards wars, and ruthless venture capitalists. He fought “bugs” and “piracy.” He and his employees worked insane hours to rush products to market, driven by the same familiar yet mysteriously powerful creative urge that we see throughout the industry today. From this turmoil emerged products that changed the world.

It’s fashionable to say that today’s technology products and businesses are different, and vastly more sophisticated, than anything that came before. I suspect that if Edison saw today’s industry, he would disagree.

[Glossary for non-techies: “Vaporware” means announcing a product well before it is ready, so as to intimidate competitors and delay customers’ purchases until your product is ready. “FUD” means to spread misleading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt about competitors’ products. A “standards war” is a battle between competing vendors to dictate and control technical standards.]