A few thoughts on “Maximum Freud”

In 1972, I was young engineering student at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. One of the first courses I was required to take was a short-course on slide rules. For those of you who don’t know what a slide rule is – first came the abacus, then came the slide rule, and then came the calculator.

This was a time when the real “cool geeks” on campus walked around proudly displaying their black carrying case for their slide rule that was attached to their belt. Brainiacs on parade, a way of telling the world how smart they were.

Early calculators were first showing their face around 1970, but in 1972 they were still pretty expensive. I remember arguing with my teacher about whether or not the slide rule course was necessary and his response was that “all engineers need to know how to run the slide rule.” Tough to argue with that logic.

But of course his thinking was wrong. Even though I took the course and passed it with flying colors, I’ve never used a slide rule in doing engineering work. Engineers at Hewlett Packard and Texas Instruments who were working on next generation calculators at the time would have laughed at my teacher’s assertion that slide rules were always going to be the centerpiece of the engineer’s tool chest.

Clearly this period of time was the end of an era. It was the end of the slide rule era and the beginning of the calculator era.

As a society we haven’t seen the end of too many eras, but we are on the verge of experiencing many things disappearing in the near future. Most won’t be as cleanly defined as the slide rule being replaced by the calculator. Often times the soon-to-be-obsolete technology will be replaced by two or three other technologies.

As I sketched out the simple diagram showing the end of one era and the beginning of another, the point where the two eras overlapped caught my attention. This period of time was important to isolate because of the extreme dynamics happing there. It also occurred to me that we didn’t have a name for this intersection of technology, this collision of business forces.

So I came up with the name “Maximum Freud”. Yes, it’s a rather wacky name, but it makes sense.


As technologies approach Maximum Freud, this is the period when industry players have to spend lots of time on the Freudian Couch to understand what’s going on. This is a period of extreme chaos, and also a period of extreme opportunity. But here’s the most important part:

All technologies end.

Every technology that we use today will someday go away, and it will be replaced by something else. Every technology will approach its own period of Maximum Freud. So from the standpoint of making bold predictions, the imminent demise of many of our technologies is a certainty.

Here are just a few examples of technologies that are currently approaching Maximum Freud:

  • Checking Industry – Already in decline, the end of the handwritten check is drawing near. Within ten years the appearance of a paper check will be quite rare.
  • Fax Machine – Museum curators are already dusting off a spot for this once staple of the business world. Already in its twilight, the remaining days of the fax machine are numbered.
  • Traditional AM-FM Radio – With commercial-free satellite radio making major inroads, the success of iPods and other MP3 players, and internet radio gaining ground, traditional radio has been loosing ground quickly.
  • Broadcast Television – Internet TV is gaining ground. Pay-per-View options along with McDonald’s DVD rentals and services like Netflix are all causing the traditional broadcast TV market to dwindle.
  • Wires – As we move further into the wireless age, more and more of our wired infrastructure will begin to disappear. First the cable television lines, then the telephone wires, and eventually the power lines.

As you can see, the Maximum Freud concept can be a valuable tool in determining which of the business and home products you use today will be gone tomorrow. We live in a very fluid, changing world and each step we take towards the future will enable us to experience life in a new and different way.

By Thomas Frey

2 Responses to “Maximum Freud”

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  1. Thumbsly

    I have a pencil on every desk, and a pen. Yes, the pencil is plastic, and the pens are either ballpoint or fiber-point. But those are improvements of a sort, not obsolescence of the basic devices. And the pencils in the shop are wood that I sharpen with a blade. In the shop, I also still use a triangle or a carpenter's square, and sometimes a hand saw. I carry water to some plants with a bucket -- plastic, but the same sort of device because it does exactly that job. I eat with a plate, fork or spoon, and napkin. I use a leather belt for my pants, and wear sweaters that could be hand-knit as a few were. The items you consider as "technology" are obsoleted because that is what they are, not basic processes or tools for basic activities. When the "paper trail" is removed, the absolute loss of data follows it. Yes, fire could destroy paper, but there are protected places for the most important papers. The number of scrolls that have survived thousands of years is amazing, and instructive. There still is no remotely similarly long-term electronic storage means; and the more we rely on such obsolescing technology, the more drastic the losses can be.
    • admin

      Nicely stated. You've touched on some areas that change very slowly. Over the years paper has evolved from papyrus, made from the papyrus plant, to parchment, made from animal skins, to vellums and all the various materials used in papers today. Each iteration is an improvement over the past, but still a form of paper, a technology used to convey information. When we look at how much of our lives today are the same as someone 1,000 years ago, we find many areas where life, and the technologies of the time, haven't changed all that much. At the same time, however, the areas of change have far outweighed the areas that have stayed the same. Ratcheting forward 1,000 year, how many areas of similarity will still be there. Will we be some super advanced civilization where absolutely nothing is the same, or will we regress and look exactly like people 1,000 years ago. My guess is something we cannot yet comprehend. If we intend to get rid of paper, we need to insure the new technology is better and more durable. Durability is not really our long suit. Digital information is too easily lost, and not decipherable over time. But that won't stop us from moving in that direction. Each failure point creates an opportunity. Every technology that hasn't changed or evolved also creates an opportunity. If we learn anything from humanity it is that people and society are a very fluid dynamic. Change is the only constant. Tom

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