Invented at the right time

Author: Geoff Walsh

From banking to books: how technology would affect invention

Everyone knows that the Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi invented the radio (right?). Necessity is the mother of invention, so we may assume that people in the late Nineteenth Century wanted to listen to music without the bother of going to a concert or learning to play an instrument. (There is also the option of forcing your children to music lessons and living life through them but that is beyond the scope of this blog.)

Electronic media and the humble radio

But just suppose that the radio had not been invented and there was still no way to enjoy music without being in the presence of musicians. How would an inventor go about solving this problem? The answer is of course that they would use the internet for live streaming of music and store songs on electronic media. Which makes the radio almost redundant – why go to the trouble of trying to harness electromagnetic waves and converting them to sound when we have Wifi and mobile internet?

The book (aka the old style Kindle)

What about books? Again imagine there were no books and people were tired of having to either hire a storyteller, or (more likely) listen to spoken words on their portable media. It is inconceivable that in 2015 anyone would suggest cutting down a tree, using all that wood to make a few hundred pages and then waste good ink on printing words on the page. For a newspaper this would be even more of a travesty since it has a lifetime of a few hours before being thrown away. The Green Party would ban them. I foresee a time when children will ask what that big heavy papery thing is in a museum and being told, “It’s an old style Kindle. They only ever held one ebook!”

If banks were invented today, how different would they be?

This led me to thinking, in the unlikely scenario that humanity had evolved thus far without banks, what form would a new bank take? Well obviously it would be digital – what isn’t these days? Bartering would be replaced by some kind of electronic token system on a mobile device. Coins and notes would not even be considered – a waste of metal and wood respectively. (Which is a shame for poor old Marconi, who was actually depicted on Italian banknotes in the days of the Lira.) All balances would be held in a central repository, rather as they are now, and could be checked at any time.

The branch? It could go either way. Whilst the need for human interaction will probably never be removed from the human psyche, it’s touch and go whether we would need to all be in the same room. Skype would probably suffice. So we have a world with no bank branches… what would replace them? More mobile phone shops and Starbucks probably.

Modern day digital banking

And then I started to think, well actually we are not far from that now. Apart from the fact that mobile phone shops and Starbucks are coming close to outnumbering people, we do indeed have startup banks with no branches. It is possible to live day to day without seeing coins or notes. It won’t be long before every conceivable transaction is possible on a mobile device. It’s a brave new world out there.

I’m now off for a relaxing afternoon listening to the string quartet in the park whilst reading a big heavy papery iPad-style object which only holds a single day’s news. After a while you don’t notice the kids laughing at you (honest).

(With thanks to Kevin Phillips) 

23 Mar 2015

Author: Geoff Walsh

From banking to books: how technology would affect invention

Everyone knows that the Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi invented the radio (right?). Necessity is the mother of invention, so we may assume that people in the late Nineteenth Century wanted to listen to music without the bother of going to a concert or learning to play an instrument. (There is also the option of forcing your children to music lessons and living life through them but that is beyond the scope of this blog.)

Electronic media and the humble radio

But just suppose that the radio had not been invented and there was still no way to enjoy music without being in the presence of musicians. How would an inventor go about solving this problem? The answer is of course that they would use the internet for live streaming of music and store songs on electronic media. Which makes the radio almost redundant – why go to the trouble of trying to harness electromagnetic waves and converting them to sound when we have Wifi and mobile internet?

The book (aka the old style Kindle)

What about books? Again imagine there were no books and people were tired of having to either hire a storyteller, or (more likely) listen to spoken words on their portable media. It is inconceivable that in 2015 anyone would suggest cutting down a tree, using all that wood to make a few hundred pages and then waste good ink on printing words on the page. For a newspaper this would be even more of a travesty since it has a lifetime of a few hours before being thrown away. The Green Party would ban them. I foresee a time when children will ask what that big heavy papery thing is in a museum and being told, “It’s an old style Kindle. They only ever held one ebook!”

If banks were invented today, how different would they be?

This led me to thinking, in the unlikely scenario that humanity had evolved thus far without banks, what form would a new bank take? Well obviously it would be digital – what isn’t these days? Bartering would be replaced by some kind of electronic token system on a mobile device. Coins and notes would not even be considered – a waste of metal and wood respectively. (Which is a shame for poor old Marconi, who was actually depicted on Italian banknotes in the days of the Lira.) All balances would be held in a central repository, rather as they are now, and could be checked at any time.

The branch? It could go either way. Whilst the need for human interaction will probably never be removed from the human psyche, it’s touch and go whether we would need to all be in the same room. Skype would probably suffice. So we have a world with no bank branches… what would replace them? More mobile phone shops and Starbucks probably.

Modern day digital banking

And then I started to think, well actually we are not far from that now. Apart from the fact that mobile phone shops and Starbucks are coming close to outnumbering people, we do indeed have startup banks with no branches. It is possible to live day to day without seeing coins or notes. It won’t be long before every conceivable transaction is possible on a mobile device. It’s a brave new world out there.

I’m now off for a relaxing afternoon listening to the string quartet in the park whilst reading a big heavy papery iPad-style object which only holds a single day’s news. After a while you don’t notice the kids laughing at you (honest).

(With thanks to Kevin Phillips)