I had this realization long ago that all new technologies seem to first surface as a lower-key version that exists mostly as a toy.
If you think about the great innovations of our recent history, you may think of things like the internet, computers, or smart phones. But, before you could buy an iPad, you could buy touchscreen toys made for kids. Sure, they were low resolution and didn’t have very sophisticated software, but it was still a portable computer with a touchscreen OS running various apps.
The personal computer itself was an innovation that sprung forth from the ashes of the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64, and those were just an evolution of pong. So in the beginning, the entire reason for the technology revolution, the modern personal computer, was born as a game.
I’m not saying that the invention of pong is what enabled the computer revolution to happen. I think it would’ve happened regardless. But what’s interesting is that this great technology we have today gave us a hint that it was coming with the growth of digital arcade games in the late 70s. Apple was releasing the first personal computers right around this time. Most people didn’t know what a computer was needed for. However, everyone seemed to know what the arcades were for. Gaming is fun! There was a ton of exposure to computer technology through digital arcades.
So when you’re sitting around thinking about what’s on the horizon in the technology field, consider looking at the new high-tech toys first. They may shed a shimmer of light on what someone else somewhere is using that same technology for.
Browsing amazon, I can quickly find a few toys that may be hinting at greater things to come:
Sifteo Cubes Intelligent Game System
Sphero iOS and Android controlled ball with 20+ Apps for gameplay
I leave you with this snippet from Paul Graham’s post about ideation:
“Just as trying to think up startup ideas tends to produce bad ones, working on things that could be dismissed as “toys” often produces good ones. When something is described as a toy, that means it has everything an idea needs except being important. It’s cool; users love it; it just doesn’t matter. But if you’re living in the future and you build something cool that users love, it may matter more than outsiders think. Microcomputers seemed like toys when Apple and Microsoft started working on them. I’m old enough to remember that era; the usual term for people with their own microcomputers was “hobbyists.” BackRub seemed like an inconsequential science project. The Facebook was just a way for undergrads to stalk one another.”
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