I recently wrote about my horrendously designed Marketing textbook. Like every other student, I forced myself through the clutter and found a few noteworthy tidbits. I doubt that marketing history is of widespread use but I began to piece together a trend that may help to explain our obscene technology expectations.

The history of marketing is boring. Very boring, even for a history graduate. I'll leave the history lesson to one list.

Marketing history is defined by four eras:

  1. Production Era
  2. Sales Era
  3. Marketing Era
  4. Relationship Era

I think these eras are utopian concepts. They attempt to put an entire paradigm into words. Instead, just like today, businesses worked to gain an upper hand by staying ahead of the curve. To say that each era was defined by a distinct set of characteristics is absurd and is beyond the scope of this article.

I also believe we have moved passed the relationship era into an era of irrational expectation, especially in industries that have experienced diminishing time frames between disrupting products.

You could choose many different industries and many different products to prove these diminishing time frames. I will use some major communication innovations but I’m sure there are a thousand other products that could fill this purpose.

An Alphabet

A writing system is fundamental for the delivery of written messages. The Greek alphabet, the Phoenician alphabet, Sumerian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphs all look and function differently but were equally essential to the development of modern day communication.

Travelling back thousands of years would allow us to pinpoint an exact date for the creation of alphabets. Using the date found in the link above, the oldest alphabet ranges to about 5500 years old. This is where our timeline will begin.

The Printing Press

The printing press improved the speed in which books, dictionaries, encyclopedias and religious books could be reproduced and shared. The first movable type printing press was invented between the years of 1041 and 1048 in China. In the West, Johannes Gutenberg improved upon that printing press in 1450.

Using those dates, we can see a time frame of about 4000 years between the invention of a written alphabet and the first printing presses.

The Telegraph

The telegraph helped to improve long-distance communication and drastically increased the speed in which news could travel throughout the world. The telegraph was first thought out in the mid-1700s and the first working telegraphs were built in the 1820s.

Following the invention (and improvement) of the printing press, 300 years passed before the telegraph changed communication networks and kickstarted high speed communication.

The Telephone

Alexander Graham Bell (a Canadian for all those doubters out there) filed for a patent on a telephone system in 1876. The telephone exponentially increased the speed of communication and allowed individuals to speak to each other from different sides of a continent.

Again, looking at the time frame in between the telegraph and the telephone, we can see a diminishing time frame of 50 years.

The Television

The first television broadcasts took place in England in 1927. The television improved the quality of communication and introduced a new medium for marketers and big business.

The first television broadcasts in 1927 mark an approximate 50 year gap between the telephone and the television. While not a directly shrinking time frame, we can still observe a solidifying of shorter time frames between major inventions.

The Computer

The first computers were sold commercially in 1951 while the first personal computers were invented in the mid-1970s. The impact of the personal computer can’t be predicted as we are still experiencing ramifications today. Objectively touching on the industries that the personal computer has impacted is potentially impossible.

Based on the dates above, determining when the computer became a mainstream product is difficult. Whether we choose the date of the first commercial sale of a computer or the invention date of the personal computer, we can still observe another diminishing time frame. A gap of 23 to 49 years between the television and the computer give evidence for faster innovation.

The Internet

Like the computer, the birth of the Internet that we know today took place over a few years. It is generally accepted that the Internet experienced major innovation in the mid-1980s and became a mainstream product for mass markets in the mid-1990s. Also like the computer, the Internet has uprooted entire industries and changed the future of communication.

As previously noted, a gap of 35 to 45 years took place between the first commercial computers and the birth of the Internet, but an even shorter amount of time took place between the invention of the personal computer and the Internet. If we use the context of mass markets, the gap between the mainstream personal computer and a mainstream Internet was a mere 20 years.

The Smartphone

Some people will argue the cellular phone had a larger impact than the smartphone on communications. The reason I believe the smartphone is of greater importance is because of the impact of mobile Internet. Smartphones (like cellular phones, but cellular phones were never good at handling the Internet) changed how mainstream markets interacted with the Internet, with email and with instant messaging.

Dating the age of the smartphone is difficult because “smartphone” is merely a term for a different type of cellular phone. Regardless, the first time “smartphone” was used was in 1997.

I would also argue that the smartphone took a more prevalent form with the introduction of an email and Internet focused Blackberry in 2003 and with the iPhone in 2007. Solely based on personal observation, smartphones became mainstream more as a result of the Blackberry and iPhone than due to the very first “smartphones”.

To conclude my timeline, we can see another shortened gap between the birth of the mainstream Internet and the introduction of mainstream smartphones. Depending on the years we choose to evaluate, we can see a difference of 10 to 15 years.

(The iPad*)

The reason for the asterisk beside the iPad is because it is difficult to argue whether the iPad has had a big enough impact on the communication market to warrant a placing on this list. Only time will tell whether the tablet computer (the tablet computer we know and understand today, not the tablet computer which never became mainstream) is of major importance.

If I use the iPad on this list, we can again see an even shorter amount of time between the smartphone and the tablet computer — a minuscule three to seven years to be exact.

Inferences

This list can easily be questioned and is a product of my own personal choice. However, this link gives a fantastic timeline of great communication inventions. I implore you to notice the massive amount of time between the invention of paper and the invention of the first printing presses.

Utilizing the idea of time frames between disrupting products, it should be easy to see that society today is used to almost irrational rates of innovation, especially in communication and technology. The gap between these products decreased from 1000 years to 5 years.

The exponential rate increase could help to explain the unbelievable expectations bestowed upon tech companies today. Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft are all responsible for delivering the next major innovation with these expectations in mind. These companies didn’t create this problem. Rather, these companies were born into that exponential curve of expectation.

I believe you could study other industries and find the same decrease of time between major inventions. The transportation industry, for example, has inventions like the wheel, the steamship, the locomotive, the automobile and the airplane. Using the dates of these inventions, we can see many of the same lengths of time as the communications industry.

But what has really happened since the Wright brothers? The transportation industry reacted to these shortened time frames and handled expectations by making iterative changes.

Could therein lie the answer to how tech companies should deal with current and future expectations? Should companies like Apple and Google increase the time between major product releases in order to curb the unreasonable expectations they find themselves in? Could this explain why we have yet to see a disrupting smart television?1

I don’t intend to generalize and state that the communication and transportation industries should handle their respective release schedules in the same manner. I also have no answers for these expectations. I merely hope to put words and some historical context to the dumbfounding volatility of the tech industry.

Whether we see another major product in 2014 remains to be seen. Studying history and the incredible inventions over time helps to give context to an era of business that is as volatile as the money which it circulates.

I personally hope for another incredible release which can improve my work efficiency and life enjoyment. I’m very sure I share this hope with others. But if tech companies need to alter how they develop and innovate in order to accommodate long-term growth, I would rather live with the iterative consequences than cry over the death of an imploded industry.


1: Obviously, the other reason for not seeing a proper smart television is because companies have yet to design a good one.