Law of the handicap of a head start  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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The dialectics of progress is the problem that when a society dedicates itself to certain standards and those standards change, it is harder to adapt. A society that hasn't committed itself yet will not have this problem. Thus, a society that at one point has a head start over other societies, may at a later time be stuck with obsolete technology that gets in the way of further progress. The result is that what is considered to be the state of the art in a certain field can be seen as "jumping" from place to place. A common example of this is 19th century England, which was at the forefront of the industrial revolution; the technology and infrastructure installed at the time later became a hindrance to further modernization. Conversely, countries like Japan or the Soviet Union, being industrial latecomers, were able to adopt the latest industrial technologies with little disruption from and to extant infrastructure. More contemporary examples are those pertaining to Internet infrastructure, like the adoption of IPv6.

More in general, societies, companies and individuals are often confronted with the decision to either invest now and get a fast return or put off the investment until a new technology has emerged and possibly make a bigger profit then.

A well known problem for individuals is the decision when to buy a (new) computer. Computer speed develops at a steady pace, so if you put off the investment for one year, you may have to do with a slower (or no) computer for the first year, but after that (at the same price) you'll have a faster one. But usually the technological development is not so predictable.

"Dialectics of progress" is a translation of the title of an essay by Dutch historian Jan Romein first published in 1935 where he described this phenomenon, although his term for it would literally translate as "the law of the braking lead", which is the Dutch term for it.

See also logistic function.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Law of the handicap of a head start" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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