Standards and the Waves of Change

Standards and the Waves of Change

The SF Bay Area Internet Society Chapter’s Board Member, Ken Krechmer, wrote about the new waves of change made possible by creation of standards in 1996. It is a fascinating read after all these years to see how technology standards have influenced the modern information society.

“The next wave is emerging: the adaptive information wave. It is being carried forward by open adaptive processes and will operate over near real time wireless communications. The linear processing wave created a tribal information society. The adaptive information wave will be more like the ferment of a modern society. Considerable freedom will be possible and considerable responsibility will be necessary. “

Without the cubit, the pyramids could not have been built. Technical standards are the foundation of each technological advance. Each succeeding innovation is linked by reference to prior technical standards. And each successful innovation enhances the flow of progress. Most innovations cause only the smallest addition to the flow of progress, but a few are the beginnings of more profound change, perhaps the beginnings of a new wave of change. Technical standards are a means to chart these rising waves of change. In this paper three successions of technical standards are identified, and the past waves of change they influenced are described.

An early indication of a standard is the beginning of written alphabets by the Egyptians and Babylonians around 4000 BC. Thus the beginnings of a standard mark the start of recorded Western history. The development of a standard Western alphabet continued for about 3000 years until the Greeks completed the task with the addition of vowels (and the writing of the Homeric tales).

Alphabets were so desirable that many other incompatible alphabets were also developed in other cultures. The creation of multiple alphabets appears to be caused by minimum communications between different cultures and the desire of each culture to control its own alphabet. So each culture developed its own standard alphabet, many of which remain to this day.

During the period that the alphabet developed, different unit standards for length and volume also developed, setting the stage for the next wave of change, the trading wave. Trading, the major activity of merchants, is enhanced by the acceptance of public standards for unit measure. Initially, different cultures created different unit standards. Over time, trading, a form of communications, reduced the number of different systems of weight and measures significantly.

The waves of human progress, technology and standards are related and overlapping. The same as humans and technology, standards follow an evolutionary path. Multiple standards are created and over time winnowed down to the most desirable and culturally acceptable standards that codify the technical requirements developed during the preceding wave. Future waves build upon the previous technical work, by reference to the standards. Standards developed during one wave thus become the foundation upon which the technologies for the next wave are built.

Find the complete reading of this blog here.

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