Concorde moment

british_airways_concorde_g-boac_03I recently searched for the term “Concorde moment” and did not find it. The term has appeared on Top Gear some years ago (though I can’t find the clip), probably mentioned by James May (who knows something about technology evolution) or Jeremy Clarkson (who certainly lamented the passing of the Concorde many times.) What “Concorde moment” means, essentially, is (as Clarkson says in the video below) “a giant step backward for mankind”.

The Concorde is still the fastest passenger jet ever made (3.5 hours from London to New York) and still the most beautiful one. In the end, it turned out to be too noisy, too polluting, and too expensive, never really making money. But it sure looked impressive. I never got to go on one, despite working in an international consulting company and jetting back and forth across the pond quite a bit. But my boss once bamboozled someone into bleeding for the ticket, and lived off the experience for a long time.

palm_graffiti_gesturesA Concorde moment, in other words, is a situation where a groundbreaking technology ceases to be, despite clearly being (and remaining) best in class, for reasons that seem hard to understand. Other examples may include

  • the Palm Pilot with its Graffiti shorthand system, once used by businesspeople all over the world (and by my wife to take impressive notes in all her studies)
  • the Apollo space program – we last went to the moon in 1972, with Apollo 17, and have not been back since. 45 years without going back has resulted in some impressive conspiracy theories, but again, the lack of any scientific or economic reason for going there is probably why it hasn’t happened.
  • the Bugatti Veyron, at least according to Top Gear. Personally, I find the announced new Tesla Roadster much more exciting, but, well, everyone is entitled to an opinion.
  • and, well, suggestions?

7 thoughts on “Concorde moment

  1. Pascal Bourguignon (@ogamita)

    Try to avoid believing your own propaganda. The concorde wasn’t too noisy, too polluting or too expensive. It was just terrible competition to Boeing who still cannot achieve the same feat (notice that the Russian could approach it with the Tupolev).

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  3. Pierre

    This is not a “Concorde moment”, but flying has become such an abysmal experience. In the 60’s and 70’s, even in regular class, I could get a steak and fresh vegetables, served on a porcelain plate, with silver cutlery and a small bottle of wine, as part of my air fare. Now we’re treated like cattle.

  4. Sam

    Concorde looked cool, but except for the speed, there was nothing technically impressive about it. It was noisy, it was unsafe (apparently!), it was cramped, and it was dirty and ridiculously expensive to operate. A shiny new 787 gets 80-100 mpg/seat, while the Concorde got around 15 mpg/seat. In the end, people simply didn’t want to pay for speed at the expense of literally every other attribute. Is that so surprising?

    There’s a million examples in history of someone building something which excels at one attribute above all else. Then everybody realizes that building a well-balanced system is what we really want.

    The smartphone in your pocket doesn’t have the fastest lens ever put on a camera, or the biggest battery ever constructed, or the most cores of any CPU. Whenever a device is engineered to be the world’s superlative at one thing, it tends to be terrible at everything else. I don’t want a $4000 1.0-kg block of glass in my pocket, even if it would give me 1.5 more stops of light.

  5. Florian Lohoff

    The Palms “need to learn” handwriting has been not state of the art of that time. It was a cheap “me too” moment when Apple brought the Newton. The Newton could easily interpret your personal hand writing and not some handwriting. The Palm required to adapt to technology, the Newton adapted technology to the human. Bad that more than 20 Years later Hand writing recognition has basically disappeared from consumer grade devices although touch displays have been available everywhere.

    1. Espen Post author

      I disagree completely – and I had both the Newton and many Palms. The Newton simply did not work – it was too slow for what it set out to do, and chose a model (interpreting full handwriting) that the technology was not ready for. The Palm/Graffiti combination was much simpler, taught the user to use it, and was actually useful.

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