What’s a legitimate trend versus what’s just trendy? That is the question Amy Webb wants to better equip us to answer using the thinking tools she lays out in the compelling but quirky The Signals Are Talking. Besides the occasional TED-talky-listen-to-me-and-your-world-will-be-forever-changed feel to the book, the book’s other quirk is the lack of an obvious audience but that’s an issue for the publisher and publicist to worry about. Importantly, most readers who make their way to this intriguing book will find plenty to think about and those willing to go a step or two further may find specific ideas/tools to actively implement.
Lazaridis [cofounder of Blackberry], a global pioneer in global communications, hadn’t seen the iPhone coming…He found out about the iPhone via a commercial, just like everyone else.
For those wanting to hear what the signals are saying, Webb’s thought process has three essential components: (1) a method for forecasting future trends which, (2) requires identifying patterns in technology usage and, (3) encourages a dynamic that switches between broader and narrower perspectives. While developing her framework, Webb offers a variety of statistical tidbits to catch the reader’s attention and case studies to which she applies her methodology. Some of the analysis is a post-hoc overlaying of her approach to already played out or ongoing trends, but the ideas are every bit worth considering. Why? The rate of change is faster than ever and it is only getting faster.
One of the reasons you don’t recognize this moment in time as an era of great transformation is because it’s hard to recognize change. Another reason: novelty has become the new normal.
Whether you are a decision maker at your job, an investor, an educator or just someone who likes to keep up, tracking what’s next is going to get harder as it all goes faster. To illustrate this point, Webb offers the following rates of widespread adoption for three different technologies: 30 years for washing machines, 15 years for color televisions and 8 years for smartphones. To see where things might be going in the transportation sector, Webb offers up the fact that in 1983, 46% of 16 year olds got their driver’s licenses while that number was down to 24% in 2014. This second set of stats leads into one of Webb’s most detailed case studies, Uber. How Uber came to be, where it may go and why other start-ups vying to be the “Uber for X” are most likely to fail is considered in detail. Towards the end of The Signals Are Talking, Webb turns her attention to the social and ethical impacts associated with technology. As a teacher and parent concerned about the interplay between technology and work for my students and children, I found these parts to be the most compelling even if they played second fiddle to Webb’s primary focus on forecasting in general.
We aren’t augmenting reality as much as we are augmenting humanity.
All-in-all, a compelling set of ideas and ones I’m likely to return to again and again. I’m not entirely sure why I decided to pick this book up, but I’m glad I did.