The Quantum Quality Leap


This is a phenomena that I’ve noticed a couple of times… there’s a community of people who are engaged in an activity… they bumble along, then suddenly – in a very short period of time, they get to be really good at it – so much so, that it transforms the culture (or at least the discourse), rendering the previous culture almost unrecogniseable.

Now this may just be an error of observation on my part… I just don’t notice things improving until they hit a WTF threshold. I’m not sure though – I suspect there’s something else going on. It’s almost like a 100th Monkey thing… where there’s a sudden explosive change… started by a few individuals, then within a couple of memetic iterations, everyone is doing it.

I first noticed this in Camden Market in the 1990s. It went from being a tatty little place selling goth scarves etc to a hive of boutiquey type places. Money got involved. It’s seems to be a fairly common thing with markets in fact – where visual attention rules… Etsy is another prime example. It went from “crafts” to “boutiques” very quickly.

The whole effect seems to be a combination of

1) Competition for attention.
2) No “IP” – ie: ideas are free to propagate without state constriction.
3) “Seed Geniuses” who make the first quantum leap – people with vision and… ability.

This effect has become quite noticeable in a bunch of different spheres online, some notable examples being:

1) Lego


This also demonstrates a leap in video quality… anamorphic, dolly-shots, well lit etc. This particular example also include Process… which seems to be a crucial part of memetic virility – playing on the “I could do that” factor. The first time I felt “WTF” over lego creations was lego rubics-cube solvers… and now? The Incredible has become quite common.

2) Rube Goldberg Machines

Started out as marbles on wires, now there are dozens of examples like this:

The “related videos” in the youtube side-bar have lots of other examples… back to Lego

3) Origami



These are just examples that have taken me a bit by surprise – because I’ve seen the “before / after” situation… there are doubtless countless others… I suspect quite strongly that Kickstarter is starting to show a similar effect… though this is more to do with polish of presentation than really world-beating ideas.

Worth comparing and contrasting though – (where the “IP” is poisoned by default), and – where there’s a tendency to open-source. Kickstarter is on an entirely different planet, in terms of both capability and money. I’m still a little wary of it becoming the facebook of crowd-funding… but I’ve also noticed the odd site here and there offering pre-sales outside the kickstarter environment… and I’ve “invested”. eg:

the biolite stove

the incredible WAAI thing

But anyway… Quantum Quality Leap… these days I’m keeping 1/2 an eye out for other places where this might crop up… obvious suspects being microcopters, or 3D printing. There’s also a massive drift (noticeable in kickstarter) towards creating building-blocks for The Internet Of Things… this is happening even faster than the wave of really cheap 3D printer kits that started about 6 months ago.