Examples of path dependence and where it might lead for smartphones


50 Things That Made The Modern Economy is a BBC World Service podcast.  In short snippets of 9 minutes, Tim Harford, the FT journalist, discusses innovations that have played a crucial role in shaping the world today.

The Haber-Bosch process, for example, responsible for thousands of deaths in the First World War, is fundamental to sustaining human life and population growth. It is the magic that results in fertilisers, without which there would be insufficient food for the world.

In discussing the diesel engine, Harford raises the notion of path dependence: investment in a technology, for example, leads you down a certain path, and influences future investments.

The smartphone, and associated apps, can be seen as such an investment. We are on a dependent path and the challenge to find new forms, and radically different user experiences, is impacted by it.

Part of Friday Inspirations, an ongoing MEX series exploring tangents and their relationship to better experience design.  We explain the origins of the Inspirations series in this MEX podcast and article.  Share your own inspirations on Twitter at #mexDTI.

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