An Autopsy of Incorrect Tech Predictions

But What if We’re Wrong?, a book by author and former New York Times Magazine essayist Chuck Klosterman, advocates for looking at the present as if it were the past. The impetus for such an exercise is that throughout history, humans have repeatedly had extreme confidence in beliefs, predictions, or “truisms” that time eventually proves to be cartoonishly incorrect. Consider such claims as “The internet will never catch on,” or “The horse is here to stay.” If history is truly to be learned from, in Klosterman’s opinion, it is almost guaranteed that many if not most of our current beliefs will flop just as hard as each of these. The point is, we’re wrong. A LOT. Especially about technology. Thanks to the rapid pace of technological evolution, we’re able to identify what we’ve been wrong (or right) about sooner, provided we’re willing to conduct that exercise. In that pursuit, let’s reevaluate a few incorrect tech predictions from January 2021.

Smartphones will be a thing of the past

This bold prediction came from the Future Today Institute’s 2021 Tech Trends Report, which posited that pandemic-induced supply chain struggles for smartphones and the materials used to make them, along with mainstream adoption of wearables, would lead to a decline in smartphones primacy in our lives. At least for the year 2021, the prediction is a flop, as few remain willing to allow their phone to stray far from their person. Apple watches are ubiquitous, supply-chain issues still linger, and consumers are holding onto old smartphones longer than before, but nobody’s putting their phones down any time soon. To wit: eMarketer data reports the average daily time spent on a smart phone increased yet again last year, rising to nearly 4 hours.

There will be a significant need for reorienting and reskilling the workforce to optimize remote work capabilities

As articulated in the 2021 Technology Outlook from Deloitte, this prediction forecasted the need for tech companies to scale the support and development opportunities they provide remote employees, presumably in order to offset diminished remote productivity. With a few exceptions, this hasn’t happened. For the most part, remote work has proven just as productive as the old school format. While the style and location of work has changed, and company culture has needed additional attention, work itself hasn’t. Most knowledge workers who have gone remote haven’t had to relearn how to ride a bicycle – they’ve just had to learn how to ride one with a few more gears. Where this prediction has had a greater degree of applicability is in the higher education market. While the work of knowledge workers remains primarily the same, the nature of the higher education experience itself is at least as important as the subject matter.

Touchless video doorbells will emerge

CES always prompts plenty of predictions but this one in particular from Security Sales & Integration caught my eye due to the immediacy with which it was proven wrong. Every single result on the first page of a Google search of “touchless doorbells” is from January or February and most reference CES 2021. Industry predictions dependent on sustained pandemic-era germaphobia didn’t have a great hit rate, and in this case the discovery that the virus doesn’t spread as much through surfaces as it does through airborne transmission likely killed consumer demand before it even got off the ground. To paraphrase Jurassic Park’s Dr. Ian Malcolm, manufacturers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should (or rather, needed to).

Wi-Fi sensing will gain importance in home security

Another hot topic SS&I spotted at CES 2021 was the introduction of Wi-Fi sensing as a new feature in home security systems. While this is still a thing, it by no means gained prominence, as I think consumers got a bit skittish about the prospect of their devices always being sensed. Personally, I also wouldn’t want my home security flagging guests’ phones when they come over, for example. Also, Wi-Fi sensing is a backwards-looking feature that doesn’t do anything to stop intruders in the act. It’s not all that useful as a deterrent either – How would crooks know ahead of time it was in use?

There’s a famous Tolstoy quote that suggests every happy family is alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. I feel the same way about these incorrect predictions. Each of these is wrong in its own way for its own reasons, and I have no unifying principle to offer that we can use to avoid bad predictions in the future. The best I can do is to provide the reassurance that while each of these incorrect tech predictions were indeed quite incorrect, that doesn’t mean they always will be. Maybe they were just too prescient. After all, if Klosterman is to be believed, I’ll likely be the one looking cartoonishly wrong eventually.

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