The Speed of Change

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How quickly does what you know change?


How has change increased? Let us look at two examples from history: the speed of transportation and the acceleration of knowledge. Around 6000 BC the camel caravan was the fastest form of transportation at about eight miles an hour. In the late eighteenth century (1785) the stagecoach was able to cover about ten miles an hour. It took about 8000 years to increase the average group speed by two miles an hour. In 1825 the steam engine was invented and within a decade locomotives could carry people at a speed of thirteen miles an hour. In less than fifty years the average rate of speed had increased more than in the previous 8000 years. Within the next one hundred years airplanes were going 100 miles an hour and by 1960 missiles were traveling at over 1800 mph. This rapid acceleration in the speed of travel has transformed our planet and brought tremendous change in its wake.

Once change begins it can gather momentum like a snowball rolling down hill. Soon we are buried in the avalanche of change that had a small beginning.

The "change" of change is also evident when we look at the accelerated rate of growth in mankind’s knowledge base. The question to consider is, "How quickly does what we know change?" What would happen if we assumed that all of the scientific knowledge that mankind had accumulated by the year One AD equaled one unit of information. "How long did it take that one unit of knowledge to double?" This research was actually done and the answer was 1500 years or until the sixteenth century. The next doubling of knowledge from two to four units of information took only 250 years or until 1750 AD. By 1900, one hundred and fifty years later, knowledge had doubled again to 8 units. The speed at which information doubles was getting faster and faster. The doubling speed has now reached every 1-2 years.

No wonder you have a hard time keeping up with the latest data. Trying to stay current with the knowledge base of just a limited area of interest is impossible. When you move out of this familiar area, sifting through the maze of information is mind boggling. We are seeing more and more specialization as people try to control and limit the size of the information pool with which they must be familiar.

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