Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Does it matter?

Obsolescence is sneaky. Sometimes it is like a weather front.  It comes in quietly and you hardly notice the change.  I guess anything, especially anything social or political, can become obsolete.  I have heard comments that the church, marriage, cash and even men are obsolete or might be on their way to becoming that way.  

Futurists sometimes use the example of the buggy whip manufacturers, who might have been at the top of their game financially, until the auto came along.  The auto like many things came along slowly.  Invention, a few hobbyists (the early adopters), an industrial interest that aims to make many copies available.  Some of those are inefficient or simply unlucky while maybe other variables and factors are changing that make the new invention a good idea.  Slow spreading and increased adoption, maybe accompanied by a winnowing of the field of manufacturers and producers and eventually, the new form of transportation (or eating or being medically treated or reading) is dominant.  Technologists like to point out that old technologies don't die.  They just shrink.  You can still get buggies and buggy whips and there is no doubt a second-hand market in them, as well.  

Peoples' institutions and practices can exist solely as custom and tradition.  But, if the needs and purposes that created and support them fall away or mutate strongly into something new, the institutions and practices are on their way to decay and obsolescence.  Sometimes, people try to see which way things are headed by studying habits, interests and purchases of the young.  But whether it is an electronic gadget or a slang phrase, it is very difficult to see how an item of interest will fare in the future.  There are competitors in the field vying for attention as well as the fact that the users themselves change, both from age and from unforeseeable events.  Marketers and language observers have not perfected prediction and there are often surprises in usage and habits.

Science is full of concepts related to prediction and relations between variables.  The modern concept of probability is used every day to communicate some estimate of strength of likelihood.  I guess most of us are comfortable with hearing there is a 20% chance of rain.  Most people seem to feel that hearing that figure is helpful and useful.  That, of course, was not always so.  I am confident that the arguments about the meaning of probability, especially "personal" or "subjective" probability are continuing in many places.

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