Ice harvesting, digital imaging and why history matters

Those who study history and understand theory can make better predictions. The quote below comes from James M. Utterback, an MIT professor who has done pioneering work regarding the interplay between technological change and industrial dynamics. In 1994, Utterback compared photographic film with the old Ice harvesting industry in the Boston area, a vibrant business back in the 19th century. Using special plows, ice was harvested and isolated using saw dust, then transported for weeks throughout the entire world. Needless to say, this entire industry collapsed with the introduction of mechanical refrigeration.

”As of 1993, the future of Sony’s new image-producing technology is not clear. It may be a technology with only a few special applications; but then, it may become the way people take pictures in the future – which raises the question of how the massive industry based on photosensitive film will respond. The multibillion dollar industry of Kodak, Fuji Film, docens of camera makers, and tens of thousands of independent film processors around the world may be in the same situation as the nineteenth-century harvested ice industry.”

Source: Utterback, J. (1994) Mastering the dynamics of innovation – How companies can seize opportunities in the face of technological change , Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Massachusetts, p. 181.


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