Sticking With The Bigg-er Picture

As accustomed as we have become to the idea that scientists “construct” theories and “produce” explanations, and regardless of the controversies among scientists, the fact remains that they only disclose to us a world that came into being without the sciences or other human contributions. Galileo may have conceptualized and formalized the phases of Venus, but the phases themselves had manifestly always existed. Galileo’s fabricated hypothesis simply became the acknowledged fact. By contrast, in conceptualizing technological projects, engineers produce fictions. The technology concerned does not, and by definition could not, exist, since it is in the project phase.

This tautology frees the analysis of technological proposals from the burden of confirmation necessary in the analysis of scientific hypotheses. One might argue, of course, that Diesel did not create the principles he applied in his engine any more than Galileo created the astronomical principles he observed, and some would even contend that the engine was therefore as much beyond the control of Diesel as Venus was beyond the control of Galileo. Even so, few would seriously defend the proposition that the diesel engine had always existed and needed only to be discovered. In reference to technology, Platonism is considered an extreme philosophical stance

New business models, however, demonstrate that selling small quantities of many “niche” items can be more profitable than selling a few blockbuster items. In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson argues that niche markets—subsets of consumers interested in particular products—are more accessible today than ever, and that although the demand for any particular niche-focused product will be limited, there are so many niches that together these products make up a huge market. He mentions a large online bookstore, in which half of the top 10,000 books sold less than one copy per quarter.