Flying-Car Syndrome

Jan 28, 2022

There are pervasive ideas that have been tried and tried again but fail to be successful. Sometimes they are wrong extrapolations of the technology and innovation of the past, other times they go down a dead-end path into the future. We're all susceptible to it (especially technologists), because sometimes it is different this time. We pattern match against dot-com ideas before their time (Pets.com vs. Chewy, Webvan vs. Instacart).

But many of these ideas are inevitably doomed. I call the pursuit of these ideas flying-car syndrome. The first "flying car" prototype was built in 1917, only 10 years after Henry Ford built the Model T. Over 100 years later, we're still holding onto the idea as one of the future.

I bet many millennial programmers have dreamt of rebuilding a better email protocol or making a "Craigslist killer" (and one millennial actually willed it into existence, see Facebook Marketplace). The successors that end up replacing these Lindy products don't look anything like them - and might not even replace them (phones vs. internet). Flying-car ideas focus too much on paradigms of the past.

Some other examples of flying-car ideas in software: the metaverse, Platforms-as-a-Service, no-code, artificial general intelligence, write-once run-anywhere.

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