Brad Feld

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Are Things Moving Faster Than In 1999?

Oct 02, 2015
Category Technology

I spent the day yesterday doing Denver Startup Week stuff. I was on a bunch of panels and during one of the Q&A sessions someone asked something to the effect of:

“Now that things are moving faster than ever before, how do you deal with / keep up with them?”

I thought about it for a second and responded that I wasn’t sure the assertion was correct. I don’t think things are moving faster than ever before. I paused to make sure I believed that. Then I continued with my answer.

I was a freshman in college in 1983. It felt like things were moving at an extremely fast pace. I started my first real company in 1987. The pace of things was incredible. After I sold my first company, I started a company called Intensity Ventures to make all my personal investments from. The name kind of says it all. When I started making venture capital investments in 1997, the pace of things, and the amount of work I did, was massive. In 1999 things were moving so theoretically quickly that everything was a total blur.

After riffing on this for a while, I suggested we approach it differently. It’s not that things are moving faster, it’s that information is much more available and there’s much less friction around communication. My communication mechanisms in 1983 were a landline telephone, letters, newspapers, magazines, and an airplane. The only constant in that equation 32 years later is the airplane, and as far as I can tell it takes about the same number of hours (six) to get from Boston to San Francisco that it did in 1983.

By 1987 I was regularly using faxes and Federal Express (the only overnight mail I was aware of), but a mobile phone and email didn’t really show up until around 1993 for me. The web appeared in 1994 and a completely different method of communication started its long march into integrating in our universe.

While all of this was different, the pace of things – at least the intensity of how work got done – didn’t feel much different. I was young and had a huge amount of energy and ambition, so 100 hour work weeks were typical. Redeyes were the norm for me as I wanted to spent the least amount of waking hours on airplanes. By 2001 when the Internet bubble burst, I was completely exhausted, and then I began a relentless grind for several years of cleaning up the mess I had created, followed by another relentless grind of working to get Mobius Venture Capital into a steady place and ultimately starting Foundry Group.

I never once felt that things were moving slowly. Instead, as time passed, my approach to communicating with people changed, although lots of humans in my world still want to get together face to face or fly to meet me for 30 minutes when a video conference would be perfectly adequate.

But more significantly, when I calmly observe the world around me, we want to feel, like every other generation, that what we are facing right now is more complicated, more important, and changing faster than ever before in human history.

On an absolute basis, it might feel this way because of communication mechanisms. But if you take the first derivative, I think you’ve got a flat line, as the relative pace (when normalized for communication mechanisms) feels constant to me, at least during the 1983 to 2015 time period that I’ve experienced as an adult.

Remember – All this has happened before and all of it will happen again. Ponder this the next time you get on an airplane, even if it has WiFi.

Agree or disagree?