Tech Trends

The Persistence of Old Technology

By Marina London, LCSW, CEAP


I am always preaching the need for EAP preparedness in the face of rapidly changing technology. 

But then I came across a very interesting article by Dylan Tweney in Venture Beat entitled: “Sometimes 40-year-old technology actually is the best tool for the job.” In it, Tweney states “Technology changes far slower than we usually think it does.”

He goes on to observe that a pretty good technology that achieves widespread acceptance has a way of sticking around for years, even decades. Just look at how many people still listen to AM radio, buy CDs at concerts, or drive cars with internal combustion engines.

The persistence of old-but-acceptable technology has some major implications for the future of the World Wide Web. After all, the Web is hardly cutting-edge tech. The basic protocol on which the Internet is based is over 40 years old.
So if you’re waiting for a transformative change in how we consume information online, you could be waiting a long time.

Think about what air travel looked like in 1965. Humans had only been flying airplanes for about 60 years, and the U.S. and Soviet Union were rapidly expanding their space travel capabilities. If you plotted a line of human transportation speed from 1750 to 1950, it would form an exponential curve. In the near future — a 1960s futurist might think — we would soon be flying on huge, comfortable supersonic jets. And shortly after that, we’d be riding on incredibly fast rockets, then nuclear rockets, and perhaps enjoying near-light speed interstellar travel by the early 2000s.

But it didn’t turn out that way. Supersonic jets turned out to be way too expensive and way too damaging to the ozone layer. Ordinary, high-capacity jets like the Boeing 747 turned out to be economically sound enough that they became the de facto standard. The models Boeing created in the 1970s form the backbone of the company’s lines today, with slight differences and enhancements that are mostly invisible to non-experts. In fact, some of today’s planes are actually slower than their 1970s predecessors: The Boeing 787 is slower than the 707.

What Does this Mean for EA Practice?
It means that while we work to add video counseling and making counseling appointments via text, we need to think about what EA services and components will transcend technological and sociological change. Twenty years from now, will human talk therapy be obsolete? Most major mental illnesses will be biologically treatable. And our clients may be talking to highly skilled and responsive artificial intelligence entities who will be available to them 24/7.

Even the popular media are beginning to talk about the impending developments in artificial intelligence and other scientific areas. An article in the New York Times asked: “Who is making sure that all of this innovation does not go drastically wrong?”

Well the Future of Life Institute for one, an organization that seeks to “mitigate existential risks facing humanity” from “human-level artificial intelligence.” And there are others. The Lifeboat Foundation is a nonprofit that tries to help humanity combat the “existential risks” of genetic engineering, nanotechnology and the so-called singularity, which refers to the hypothetical moment when artificial intelligence surpasses the human intellect. Philosophers and scientists at Cambridge University formed the Center for Study of Existential Risk, with the goal to ensure “that our own species has a long-term future.” 

It concerns me that the experts who are putting together these think tanks are not mental health, let alone EA, professionals. I think we need to put our unique heads together and ponder the future of the field. We do not want to be overtaken by progress. And we want to preserve the techniques and interventions that have stood the test of time.

For a list of references used in this article, contact m.london@eapassn.org

Marina London is Manager of Web Services for EAPA and author of iWebU, http://iwebu.info, a weekly blog about the Internet and social media for mental health and EA professionals who are challenged by new communication technologies. She previously served as an executive for several national EAP and managed mental health care firms. She can be reached at m.london@eapassn.org.