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The Oedipal appetite of new software and technology

“New technology will naturally drive out the old, which it mimics in functionality and terminology, if the old is no longer available.” The quote comes from Henry Petroski, Success through Failure: the paradox of design (Princeton 2006) at 41. The opposite of Gresham’s Law, where debased coin drives out unalloyed full-weight coin, this housecleaning by better technology proved out when scanners sent fax machines packing; when PowerPoint replaced 35 mm slides; when spreadsheets made ledger books obsolete and photocopiers put carbon paper in the museums.

Attorneys and others in legal departments have seen their share of out-of-date technology banished by the brash newcomer: e-mail wiped out letterhead and envelopes; electronic billing savaged mailed invoices; online legal research rendered libraries – a venerable technology – inadequate; online portals dispatched physical deal rooms; cell phones left landlines gathering dust; iPads gobble up everything with apps.

Technologies are nothing if not Oedipal – the child supplants the parent.

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