An empirical evidence of Fubini’s law

Last week I wrote about the mysterious Mr Fubini, who created a law that describes the adoption of new technology. A faithful reader of my blog, however, remarked that it’s easy to formulate a theorem without any further proof. As a scientist by education (and a blogger only by vocation) I couldn’t ignore such a righteous remark. So, here comes an empirical evidence of Fubini’s law.

Maybe some of you remember my 2013 posting, “inspiration and perspiration”, in which I described the way my blog was getting shape at that time. How the topics to write about usually came while commuting to work on the tramway. And that, when an idea for an article popped up, it took me less than 10 minutes to create an outline on my Blackberry. Followed by about 3 more hours to elaborate, format, and publish the final article.

Well, in the meantime, technology has evolved and my good old keyboard-operated device has been replaced by a full-fledged smartphone. Yet, I still take the tram to work. My cell phone may have improved, but the traffic to and in Antwerp certainly got worse in the past years. If the weather allows (I’m not a big fan of turning up soaked at the office) I even get off the trolley car 2 or 3 stops too early, and walk the last mile – my fitness tracker corrects me that it’s about 3,000 steps – to work. That’s good for my physical condition, helps me think more clearly, and lets my creative juices flow.

There’s one big difference compared to 2013 (apart from me carrying a step counter): instead of typing down my thoughts, I simply record them now with the voice-recorder app on my phone, and write out the transcript when I arrive at the office…

Fubini’s law. Quod erat demonstrandum!

Please, note that I self-dictated a rough version of the above text on my phone while commuting this morning, then polished the transcript, and published it on WordPress. The whole process, including a healthy walk, took me a little less than two hours.

The mysterious Mr Fubini

Several years ago, I came across a simple and compelling vision on the adoption and evolution of new technologies, known as Fubini’s law:

1. People initially use technology to do what they do now – but faster.

2. Then they gradually begin to use technology to do new things.

3. The new things change life-styles and work-styles.

4. The new life-styles and work-styles change society …

… and eventually change technology.

Since the lines above apply to many technology domains I worked on throughout my career, I have cited Fubini’s law many times in my presentations. Just think of how technologies like broadband internet, digital TV, and mobile communications have changed the way people live, work, and play.

(Photo by Marc Mueller, CC BY 3.0 DE)

In analogy with Moore’s and Metcalfe’s laws, about which I wrote in an older post on this blog, I have always assumed that Fubini’s law was invented by a person carrying the name Fubini. But, in fact, nobody seems to know who Mr (or Mrs?) Fubini actually is (or was), for which purpose he (or she) formulated this law, or when and where it was originally published. I ran a Google search to find out more, but this only yielded a handful of blog posts (the oldest ones date from around the year 2003) and books that refer to each other.

I have always been convinced that Fubini’s observations are spot on. And even if it’s not my style to quote anonymous or unverified sources, I will keep on using his wise words in my presentations. To illustrate the transformative power of technology and to celebrate human inventivity!

Note: Fubini’s law, as described above, shouldn’t be confused with Guido Fubini’s theorem that dates from 1907 and describes how to compute a double integral using iterated integrals.

Another note: after reading this post, Ron Murch from the University of Calgary  pointed me to the fact that the observations in Fubini’s law are quite nicely aligned with Marshall McLuhan’s work on the evolution of the adoption of new media technologies. McLuhan’s work was done in the 1960s and one of his propositions was that, when a ‘new’ medium for communication is introduced, it’s initial content is that of the ‘old’ media it is replacing. Then, as society uses the new medium more and more, we start to do things with it that the old media were incapable of doing. Thanks Ron, much appreciated!

Another reader, Rob Thomsett, wrote me that Barry Jones (who later became Australian Minister of Science) quoted Fubini’s Law as early as in 1974 at a Future of Work conference run by the Australian Government. Rob has written and spoken about it since then and many have referred to him as the origin.