Just the tractor, please

Black and white photo of old tractor

Sometimes you have to marvel at the wonderful advances in technology. Just compare the latest versions of iPhone and Android with the first versions that came out in 2007. Or its predecessors, that had a battery life of a week or more, and that you could drop from any height, with your only concern being that it would break whatever it landed on. Other than that, it was of course inferior in any way possible. Oh, price is of course an issue, let’s not forget.

And most of us have probably fantasised about going back to the eighties and show our past selves that we have replaced all the clunky, expensive, single function devices with a single gadget. No more VCR. No more video cameras. No more land line phones with super long cords. No more cassettes of any kind.

And then, when your head is spinning, someone says “…and what if you could take an iPhone 6s back to the dark ages. Just imagine the look on their faces!”

Yeah! Imagine the look on their faces as you show them the least useful thing they have ever seen in their entire life.

Stick in the mud

I really don’t want to be the bore here, and I don’t mean to trash-talk the iPhone. (The Android wouldn’t fare any better in the 1500:s than the iPhone)

But really, what if you could bring anything back to the 16th century. What would it be? An iPhone? A flat screen TV? ZZ Top’s Mescalero?

Tractor tracks, photo by James Allan

16th century tractors were invisible

Or would you aim for something more practical? Penicillin? A refrigerator? A tractor?

I’m not sure what I’d take with me. But I’m pretty sure that the peasants of the 16th century would much prefer penicillin or a tractor to an iPhone.

I’m thinking there should be a lesson in here. Let’s see if we can dig it out.

What happens if we move forward in time instead? Travel 100 years into the future and see what’s still there. Is the iPhone still there? Hardly? How about the tractor? Pretty sure it will still be around 100 years from now.

I love my smartphone! I just wish I could find it…

And by now you may be thinking “But isn’t that comparing oranges and apples?”

Yes, indeed it is, and that’s our lesson. There are occasional articles on the web where people rank the iPhone higher than glasses as far as inventions go.

If you’re like me, and need glasses, try living a week without your smartphone, and a week without glasses. Then see which one you’d rather live without.

So, if the iPhone is an apple (see what I did there?), then the glasses, or the tractor if you will, is the orange. The iPhone is a product, and the tractor is a concept.

Penicillin-G molecular structure

The chicane to the left: tricky at high speed

Why is this important? Well, on a day-to-day basis it may not be very important. But being able to distinguish between a product and a concept serves a good purpose, and it can help you to put things into perspective. Few people have talked about “the car-killer” (since the car is a concept), whereas we constantly hear about “the iPhone killer” (since the iPhone is a product). No one advertises for “the next fridge” (concept) in the same manner some people boast “the next facebook” (product).

The French Confusion

A concept, in other words, is something you can bring back or forward in a time machine, and it would still fill the same purpose as it does today. A product, on the other hand, will probably cause confusion when you bring it back to the French Revolution, and it will be obsolete if you bring it to the next century. However, a product will make nice headlines as “the next blank“.

So, what are you trying to achieve? Is it the next product, or the next concept? I would be crazy if I encouraged everyone to come up with a new concept, since the world has seen very few of those compared to how many products there are. And let’s face it, the iPhone is making pretty good sales.

But nevertheless… what’s stopping you from thinking big?

(Feature photo: Bushtography)

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