what xerox past teaches us about new technology adoption

John Brooks book titled ‘Business Adventures’ provides 12 classic tales from the world of Wall Street.  One of them is the rise and rise of xerox during the early days of paper photocopier business.

Xerox stock grew 60X in value between 1959-67, attributed to its product, 914 paper photocopier  that is said to be one of the most successful products in history.

The rise of office production of documents coincided with rise of telephones.  Communication between people whenever it is instituted tends to lead to more ways of communicating instead of one sole purpose.

Just like any other era of mass adoption of new technology, there were fears.

The idea of photocopying was not very well received in the early 1960s, people thought it would lead to disappearance of books. One quote from the book

Various magazine articles have predicted nothing less that disappearance of the book as it now exists, and pictures the library of the future as  sort of monster computer capable of storing and retrieving the contents of books electronically and ‘xerographically”

Authors and publishers feared that photocopying would render them jobless and books would not be valuable anymore and end the very nature of writing itself.

They lobbied the senate not to liberalize fair-use policies of books and publications.

In 1967, a bill was approved that set forth the fair use doctrine and contained no educational-copying exemption.

however, author McLuhan is famously quoted as saying ‘There is no possible protection from technology expect by technology‘ in relation to protection of authors and publishers from free secondary publishing of copies that was available at the time.

These aspects of course have come to pass albeit with a few iterations. Photocopying did not mean end of books, but the monster computer predicted is now what we call Google search.

We are largely correct about the big picture of how technology might be, but most likely miss the finer details or who and how it will unfold. The idea is to be broadly correct and not precisely wrong.