The Net’s Overnight Disappointment

Does anyone really still believe that we are one revolutionary invention away from nirvana? You would think so, given the hype that briefly accompanied the mysterious product known as “Ginger.”

It just doesn’t work that way. The two inventions Ginger was set to rival — the personal computer and the World Wide Web — didn’t do their world-changing overnight. It took years, even decades, for them to evolve into powerful economic and cultural forces. That’s the way innovation happens. Slowly, and sometimes, painfully.

We are all guilty of the same sin: believing that a magic formula exists that will change the world. However, change of that magnitude doesn’t happen in a flash — no matter how great the invention.

The Web in general, and e-commerce in particular, should be proof of that.

Fire Up the Hype

For a few days, the hype machine went into overdrive over the mysterious gizmo, which it turns out may be little more than a motorized version of the human-powered scooters already giving kids all over the world a new way to break their wrists.

But for 48 hours or so, “Ginger” was The Next Big Thing personified. Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs were supposedly bowled over by prototypes and big-name venture capitalists couldn’t wait to slap down their investments.

The inventor then backpedaled furiously. He knows that nothing can live up to the expectations, so he’s choosing words like “neat” over “revolutionary.”

One Born Every Minute

The ballyhoo he’s retreating from is not his fault, though. The blame here lies squarely on the shoulders of everyone who still believes that we are one invention away from a perfect world. It also lies with the media, which fed that belief by passing along unfiltered predictions of greatness.

Of course, that “greatness”apparently originated from the publishing house slated to publish a book on Ginger.

Whatever Ginger actually turns out to be, the breathless panting over its imminent arrival serves as a fresh reminder of what’s wrong with this culture, a culturethat ceaselessly fantasizes about a new technology riding into town like the Lone Ranger.

Short-Term Memory Loss

All anyone has to do is look back over the past 18 months of e-commerce history to see that’s not going to happen. How many startups were said to be the blessed children of destiny, the golden ones that would leapfrog all others with a unique business model — such as Priceline.com or Mercata — or with a can’t-miss marketing plan like Pets.com?

The best part of “Next Big Things” is the moment before they are expected to arrive. Once they do arrive, they rarely, if ever, live up to expectations.

Mercata and Pets.com are out of business, while Priceline is hanging on by its fingernails. All were supposed to change the online world. Instead, all have been directed to the dustbin almost as quickly as they were hoisted onto the pedestal.

In the long run, however, these not-so-overnight disappointments will bring us closer to some kind of e-tail perfection. It’s a matter of evolution.

Slow and Steady

More than a decade has passed since Tim Berners-Lee came up with the Web browser, and we’re still finding new and improved ways of putting it to work to make our lives easier. Likewise, the PC, with an even longer life span behind it, gets faster and stronger every couple of months.

Anyone frozen in time in 1970 and thawed out today would be amazed at how much has changed in the technology world. They might believe that it happened overnight.

But change actually happens incrementally. Innovations are built on those that came before.

Fantastic Prospects

You have to allow time for the missteps, the failed companies, the can’t-miss business plans that miss by a mile. It’s all part of the process of moving forward — even if it means taking a step back now and then.

Like it or not, that’s the pace of technological change. It’s fast, but not immediate. The odds of there being a factory in New Hampshire or a barn in Minnesota or a cornfield in Iowa holding an invention that will alter the world forever are slim to none.

It’s a fantasy we all need to let go of — however gingerly — the sooner the better.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


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