Summary of Whiplash

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For a sweeping consideration of how digital technologies are changing the entire world, this report is surprisingly personal. MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito and Wired contributing editor Jeff Howe weave in examples from history, the headlines and their families. While some of this material is familiar – many digital age experts discuss crowdsourcing, blurred disciplinary boundaries, and so on – much of it is new and future-oriented. The resulting synthesis is rich and useful. Ito and Howe offer a valuable set of nine principles and related advice for organizations dealing with Digital Age connectivity and technological growth. getAbstract recommends their overview of ever-changing change as an open door for anyone trying to understand the ramifications of the Digital Age – today and tomorrow.

About the Authors

Joi Ito is director of the MIT Media Lab. Jeff Howe coordinates Northeastern University’s Media Innovation program and is a contributing editor at Wired.   



The Changed World

In December 1895, the Lumière brothers unveiled their invention – the moving picture. Their film clip was less than a minute long, but its novelty thrilled the viewing public. One observer wrote, “Each scene passes accompanied by tempestuous applause.” Though the Lumières’ discovery was revolutionary, they misunderstood its nature. In 1900, they announced that cinema had no future.

This disconnection between a technological breakthrough and its inventor’s understanding of its potential is common. Even Samuel Morse and Thomas Edison misjudged what the future held. When business owners introduced electricity to their factories, they stayed with older models of how to organize their machine use and missed out on some of the productivity improvements that electricity enabled. In 1977, the president of the Digital Equipment Corporation, the largest computer company at the time, saw no market for home computers. Thirty years later, in 2007, Steve Ballmer, then-CEO of Microsoft, predicted the iPhone wouldn’t do well.

The structural assumptions of people’s time and culture shape how they see the world. French philosopher Michel Foucault...

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