Monday, January 21, 2013

The death of refrigerators

Suppose that, around the time microwave ovens were invented, business analysts had a market category for "electrical devices which change the temperature of food".

Now, in the decade following the mass-market introduction of microwave ovens, you would be able to draw lots of graphs showing that microwaves were taking over the so-called "thermofluxion" industry from refrigerators, which were experiencing an astonishing relative decline. But if you had seen home appliance geeks circulating photocopied 'zines breathlessly proclaiming the "death of refrigerators" then I think you would have greeted this speculation with skepticism.

It turns out that thermofluxion is not just one thing. There are different thermofluxion devices and they have different uses. Some households have just one or the other but most people eventually want both, if they have the money. To some extent, having one even increases your desire for the other: when you have a refrigerator, a microwave oven becomes vastly more useful.

Application to recent punditry in other fields left as an exercise for the reader.