The only thing which should surprise about this commentary on the difficulty of planning is the place it appears. Given that The Guardian usually tells us how government, unions and large companies must all plan together to face the white heat of this technological dawn - or other mixed metaphors - it’s interesting to see a piece there telling us why this is not possible:
Technology in particular has a way of defeating the most ambitious agenda. It is impossible, say, to stand at the foot of the astonishing staircase of locks at Devizes on the Kennet and Avon canal without feeling some sympathy for the pioneers who invested more than £1m to build a southern inland water route linking the river Avon to the Thames – only to be driven out of business by the Great Western railway before they had got their money back. Or, even shorter lived, America’s transcontinental Pony Express, which lasted just 18 months before the advent of the telegraph demolished its business model.
The thing about tech is that even if you can see it coming, you can’t be sure quite how it will arrive or what it will do when it gets here.
Well, yes, obviously enough. We don’t know therefore we cannot plan. It is only if we know what we want to do, how we’re going to do it, what others are going to be doing around us, that we can in fact plan. Given that we don’t know any of those things about new technology then we cannot plan, can we?
The SMS message is one of the textbook examples of this. The ability to do this was there really so that engineers testing the network could do so. No one did predict that consumers would then send them by the billions. Yet we did. The point being that we can’t - OK, if you prefer, we don’t, successfully - predict what combinations of new technological possibilities we out here will use to do what.
The only method we’ve got of working it all out is for everyone to just try stuff out. Offer the ability to do something, see what works, do more of that and less of what doesn’t. Or, as we continually say around here, markets do the heavy lifting for us for planning simply doesn’t work.
Note that this particular point is nothing about the government doing stuff or the private sector. Either still has to use market processes to find out what people do want out of the new technological possibilities.