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Technology defies the law of diminishing returns

By Chee Sing Chan
April 30, 2012 05:57 PM ET

Computerworld Hong Kong - One day while observing a lady next to me on her iPad, I noticed how this person was literally condensing an exercise that would normally require a happy shopper all day to complete within a period of 30 minutes at most. This person had within a blur of swipes and prods completed the purchase of at least eight items of clothing and accessories all from different well-known brands and all delivered to the doorstep within the week.

I have always marveled at how technology is able to constantly change the equation and be a game-changer, but to take a lengthy arduous shopping experience and reduce it to a 30 minute exercise from the comfort of the sofa -- for guys that is a dream.

The potential flip side of technology is the ongoing debate about information overload and the idea that too much technology can become distracting and shortens people's attention spans.

Being a knowledge worker I do wonder at what point will there too much technology for human beings to effectively utilize? When will the addition of a technology bring no further utility or productivity to anyone because it's all too much? Surely that point will come as it does with any other factor of production.

There's an assumption that everything should at some point be subject to the law of diminishing returns. But there's one thing that constantly defies this and continues to add to people's productivity, raise capabilities and enable the possible from the seemingly impossible. That thing is technology.

The law of diminishing returns stems from 1798, when the Reverend Thomas Malthus examined the impact of population growth and concluded that population would through natural causes find a way to check itself. This became known as the law of diminishing returns.

One key area where the theory falls short is that it assumed that technology would be a fixed state. The rapid development of technology has ensured that in modern times that theory has been tested and shown to be inapplicable in many cases.

In particular it seems that technology has defied the theory completely and we should be glad because if not for technology our lives would massively be worse off as the world would constantly suffer from Malthus' law of diminishing returns.

It is technology's huge propensity to rewrite the rules, to create new possibilities that enable countries, governments, businesses and individuals to do more and achieve more than the previous generation.

So the next time you wonder if technology is detrimental to our lives or making us worse off in some way, remember it is technology's ability to constantly progress that allows us to continue to defy the law of diminishing returns.

Originally published on cw.com.hk. Click here to read the original story.
Reprinted with permission from Computerworld Hong Kong Story copyright 2012 Computerworld, Inc. All rights reserved.
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