The Ultimate Use of Tech
Do you know about the first movie screening in history?
It’s very fascinating. Before getting into the details, let me ask you another question.
Do you know how long this screening was for?
Take a Guess.
I am waiting.
I am still waiting.
It was 50.
No, not minutes but seconds. 50 seconds.
Shocked? Even I was when I read about it. It was all of 50 seconds but that’s not the shocking part of the experience.
Joi Ito (Director, MIT Media Lab) and Jeff Howe share this story (have edited it for brevity) in their wonderful book “Whiplash – How to Survive our Faster Future”.
On December 28, 1895, a crowd gathered outside the Grand Café in Paris for a mysterious exhibition. For one franc, promoters promised, the audience would witness the first “living photographs” in the history of mankind. To set the context – in just the previous few years, Gustave Eiffel has erected the tallest man-made structure in the world, electricity had turned Paris into the City of Light, and automobiles had begun racing past carriages on the capital’s broad boulevards.
Coming back to the Grand Café, the first viewers of the first living photographs were ushered down a set of dark, narrow steps into the café basement and into neat rows of folding chairs. In the middle of the room, a man stood fiddling with a small wooden box on a raised platform. After a few awkward moments, light burst from this apparatus, illuminating a linen screen with a blurry image of women emerging from the shadows of the factory. Then the image flickered strangely and sprung to life. The women onscreen began streaming out of a factory in Paris, in pairs or alone.
The grainy footage is laughably primitive today, but in the Grand Café’s basement in the middle of Paris that night, the audience gasped and applauded and laughed. Some just sat dumbfounded at the sight. And then exactly 50 seconds later, it was over. That was as much film – seventeen meters – as Auguste and Louis Lumiere, the brothers responsible for the first movie screening in history – could fit inside their invention, the Cinematographe.
The shocking part is yet to come.
Word of this most marvellous of sensations quickly spread. The crowds outside the Grand Café grew so chaotic that police were required to maintain order. Within a month, the Lumiere brothers had shot several dozen new “views,” as the fifty-second films were called. And yet the Lumiere’s are remembered less as the inventors of the motion picture than for a single film, “L’Arrivee d’ un Train”. Or to be more accurate, they are remembered for the riot this film incited when it was first screened.
You don’t need to be fluent in French to guess that “L’Arrivee d’ un Train” features a train in the act of arriving. No one had warned the audience. Imagine the horror of the audience who thought that the train was coming over them. This set off a tragedy as people ran for the door over each other through the narrow stairwell. Technology has exceeded our capacity to understand it, and not for the last time.
One might anticipate the Lumieres, with worldwide fame and a burgeoning catalogue, to become rich and instrumental to the evolution of the medium. Yet by 1900, they were done. Auguste declared that “cinema is an invention without a future.”
What had happened here?
The technology of the film had been created, but not the medium. When we watch these early films, we see pictures that move, but not a movie.
This is exactly what is happening with investor, distributor and advisor technology, also called WealthTech (a part of FinTech). There is tech for providing access. There is tech for firing transactions. There is tech for CRM and operations. And there is tech for reporting. In short, we have tech like the pictures that move. But what about tech for the investor’s movie?
There is no integration. There is no story.
Even if someone could stitch a story, it would need to be someone with a deep understanding, care and love for the investor, distributor and advisor.
By the way, what is the ultimate use of your technology in your and your investor’s life? And what should it actually be?
Shouldn’t the technology be about creating the investor’s life movie? I hope you are seeing the connection here.
The problem is that our technologies have outpaced our ability to understand them. Because our brains have fairly remained the same size – these are the same brains that believed the automobile to be a passing fancy or for that matter fire was just a piece of technology to keep us all warm and to produce shadows on the cave wall.
Forget us, even the people who are closest to a given technology are least likely to predict its ultimate use. An example – the Lumiere Brothers. Joi and Jeff add further in their book, “Our own era isn’t immune either. In 1977, Ken Olsen, the president of one of the world’s largest and most successful computer companies, Digital Equipment Corporation, told an audience that there was no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home. He stuck to his view throughout the 1980s, long after Microsoft and Apple had proved him wrong. Thirty years later, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told USA today that there was no chance that the iPhone was going to get any significant market share.”
The future of your firm rests on getting the ultimate use of tech right. As Brad Felix (Director of Innovation, Truepoint Wealth Counsel) said, “Don’t worry about what you have. Because honestly, that’s not the best answer. It’s the most convenient answer”.
What’s your answer going to be – the best answer or a convenient one?
I would love to hear from you.