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