mm278a: [Repost] Don’t look back: Something may be gaining on you.

MUDGE’S Musings

Found a video that I had seen, along with zillions of others, some time ago, but it gained fresh context when connected to a recent briefing in the best magazine on the planet, The Economist.

First the video, very compelling.

Sobering and enlightening work, by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod, actually a 2007 revision and update of the original which has been around for a couple of years. It suggested to me the headline for today’s post, “Don’t look back: Something may be gaining on you,” from that unique African-American U.S. ballplayer, Satchel Paige.

The above video is specially intriguing when measured against current reality, in Economist’s “Report on technology in emerging economies.”


Technology in emerging economies

Of internet cafés and power cuts

Feb 7th 2008 | From The Economist print edition

Emerging economies are better at adopting new technologies than at putting them into widespread use

WITHIN a few months China will overtake America as the country with the world’s largest number of internet users. Even when you factor in China’s size and its astonishing rate of GDP growth, this will be a remarkable achievement for what remains a poor economy. For the past three years China has also been the world’s largest exporter of information and communications technology (ICT). It already has the same number of mobile-phone users (500m) as the whole of Europe.

Okay, some numbers that help make real Fisch and McLeod’s message, that the 20th Century was the “American” century, but shift is happening.

Not quite so fast, though.

Yet this picture of emerging-market technarcadia is belied by parallel accounts of misery and incompetence. Last year ants ate the hard drive of a photographer in Thailand. Last week internet usage from Cairo to Kolkata was disrupted after something—probably an earthquake—sliced through two undersea cables. Personal computers have spread slowly in most emerging economies: three-quarters of low-income countries have fewer than 15 PCs per 1,000 people—and many of those computers are gathering dust.

The lever of change is of course technology. And technology is propagating to the developing world at a whiplash pace.

The upshot is that technology is spreading to emerging markets faster than it has ever done anywhere. The World Bank looked at how much time elapsed between the invention of something and its widespread adoption (defined as when 80% of countries that use a technology first report it; see chart 1). For 19th-century technologies the gap was long: 120 years for trains and open-hearth steel furnaces, 100 years for the telephone. For aviation and radio, invented in the early 20th century, the lag was 60 years. But for the PC and CAT scans the gap was around 20 years and for mobile phones just 16. In most countries, most technologies are available in some degree.

But it turns out that technology adoption is not uniform by any means; there is more to building out infrastructure than erecting a cellular tower.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Technology in emerging economies | Of internet cafés and power cuts |

The analysis reminds us that progress turns on “technical inheritance.” A lovely phrase that simply means that technological development builds on previous achievements.

Sometimes the paradigm can be fractured. I recall having discussions more than 30 years ago regarding progress in what we then called the “second world,” i.e., communist Eastern Europe and Latin America. Imagine all of the copper wire and the ferocious amount of time it’s going to take to telephonically connect all of those millions of deprived people.

The cellular telephone system totally leapfrogged the need for a copper based communications infrastructure to the last mile in the second and third world.


But, batteries still need to be recharged, so electricity still must be reliably delivered to that last mile, at the very least. Oops. Copper wire needed for that.

Until some genius in Shanghai or Bengaluru figures out how to broadcast the power from the cell tower along with the signal.

Next Thursday, you think?

But, a fascinating video, and an equally grounding analysis.

Who else but yr (justifiably) humble svt would think to put them together?

Okay, probably a less than humble moment actually.


It’s it for now. Thanks,


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2 Responses to mm278a: [Repost] Don’t look back: Something may be gaining on you.

  1. […] Web Conferencing Week ← mm278a: [Repost] Don’t look back: Something may be gaining on you. […]

  2. […] last tackled the relationship between technology and the developing world some time ago in a post worth re-savoring (well, I […]

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