ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Thursday, June 21, 2012


People accusing other people of stealing their great ideas is nothing new. Who invented the telescope? Who discovered the New World? Who discovered electricity? Ask different people in different periods of history and you’ll get multiple conflicting answers. Go as far back in time as you like; anywhere someone thinks up something amazing and someone else promptly happens to think up the same amazing thing, blood instantly runs hot on both accounts as one person adamantly asserts that he has first dibs, and the other person defensively counters that he stole nothing. For whatever reason, intellectual property theft has always offended people and those loyal to them unlike any other offense out there.

…you can only imagine it gets worse when you throw technology into the mix.

Throughout the 80’s, 90’s, and early 00’s, consumer technology skyrocketed. I mean it just absolutely took off, never looked back, and made no apologies. At the height of this revolution, if you were the proud owner of a new computer one day, you were either returning it for an upgrade the following week or wishing you had the cash to do so. However, in more recent years things have slowed down significantly. We haven’t really seen any new technology, just different form factors of the same technology we already had.

Now it was one thing when all developers had to do was make sure their hardware didn’t resemble that of other companies. Consumers didn’t care–heck, most of them didn’t even know what hardware they had–and the tech boom left plenty of room for developer originality anyway. But as things began to slow down, standards were defined, some companies definitively won and others definitively lost, and with nowhere else to turn, soon a shift was made from internals to externals. Suddenly it became vitally important to businesses and people alike that a sense of originality and superior usefulness was maintained in their devices, because everyone having beigeboxes with the same basic hardware was…well, boring.

Enter 2012. By now it’s basically impossible to browse the web’s wide offering of tech-loving communities without coming across heated debates over which company is copying which and whose devices are superior to whose. I would be happy to report that these discussions remain civil, but sadly even the nicest corners of the internet have given way to indecency in the name of defending a particular product over another as the true original.

I for one would like to think I am always hesitant about entering into such drabble…yet it seems I always find one comment that is just so wrong I have to respond to it, and before I know it, I’m leading the charge on a debate so long it maxes out Google+’s allowed number of comments on a single post. For those interested, it would seem my opinions were among the most popular, seeing as all totaled I received over 350 +1’s (and still counting), which not even Chris Pirillo could compete with, but chances are high that ‘popular opinion’ is entirely subjective to what brand the other people in the crowd use most often.

The same is true, I’m sad to say, of ‘facts’. How often is it that what initially begins as a debate over which product is the more technically capable quickly turns into a battle over whose ‘facts’ are the right ‘facts’. Seriously? You want facts? Ok, then. Everybody copied each other. There it is, black and white. Great inventions build upon each other; they set new standards which then can and should be met by others wishing to make further progress, because after all, you have to be able to attain the current standard before you can push it further.

The simple fact is, Apple didn’t make the first smartphone or tablet. Microsoft didn’t make the first PC. Xerox didn’t make the first general user interface. All of these companies and others are tangled amongst each other for having directly built off of each other’s ideas, and yes, sometimes they didn’t do so in the most ethical ways.

The truth hurts. No matter which brand you happen to be loyal to, guess what: your favorite company has made some bad choices. It’s not perfect. It isn’t even totally original. All of our technology today has built off of the technology of yesterday, and in a hundred years, who is going to care which company came up with the first anything? All we know is that our technology is 100 years better than what was around in 1912; we don’t much care who came up with it first.

The hardest part of all this though, is that no real solution presents itself. Companies continue to sue each other because they simply don’t have the ability to progress their technology as fast as they used to, and so more time is spent defending what they do have. Consumers continue to bite at each other because there’s no winning brand option anymore; you simply pick how you want to lose and then defend your choice because it is irksome to think that someone else out there is losing a little less than you are.

At the end of the day, I may very well end up arguing technology like everyone else, but in the back of my mind, the question I’m really concerned about is simply: Who was the first to bring such shallowness to our society that we’ve been reduced to calling ‘copy cat’ like a bunch of spoiled kids?