Years ago, when I was working on the book "The Virtual Corporation" with the legendary Silicon Valley executive and venture capitalist Bill Davidow, he told me something so insightful that I've never forgotten it.
It was that if you want to get rich from a technology revolution, get into the construction business.
I've thought a lot about that remark over the last dozen years and what I think Bill meant was that, sure, you can make a fortune starting or joining early some hot new company at the bleeding of the latest new tech wave. But even if you've got the right product, and have identified the right customers, and have enough capital to get to market on time, the odds are still against you succeeding.
There are just too many contingencies, too many smart competitors out there, and too much of your fate depends upon factors that are simply out of your control.
On the other hand, and this was Bill's real insight, what is rarely noticed is that major technological revolutions are always trailed by even bigger social revolutions. Humanity always makes the same mistake: We assume that we can change our tools without also changing how we see the world, how we deal with each, and ultimately, how we live. As a result, we are forever being taken by surprise when, a decade or so after the tech revolution, we suddenly find our daily lives being transformed in strange and unexpected ways.
And one of those ways is how we redesign our homes to fit the times.
Over the last couple years I've gotten a lesson in how we Americans have, almost without noticing it, fundamentally changed the way we live. My mother, who is 86 now, for many years dreamed of regaining the family farm lost in the Depression. Located near Bison, Okla., the farm was first claimed by my great-grandfather during the Oklahoma Land Rush.
While he and his young family, including my grandmother — then an infant — lived in a cave in a creek bank, my great-grandfather built a farmhouse and several outbuildings by hand. By the early years of the 20th century, the farm had become a thriving concern, with 320 acres under cultivation and a huge barn to store the harvest.
Three years ago, after a decade of trying, my mother and I managed to buy the farm — and we instantly set about restoring the buildings, which had been abandoned for nearly 20 years. Needless to say, it's been a long and expensive process.
As you might imagine, I've spent a lot of time recently studying photographs of the farm, old and new, for clues to its restoration. In the process, I've noticed some interesting things. For example, this is a farm built essentially before the age of automobiles. Thus, there is a road into the place, but it fades away as it approaches the house. After that, on horseback or in a wagon, you simply crossed the wide lawn on the easiest path to the house or barn, perhaps leaving the horse to graze. Indeed, the only delineated part of the entire acreage was the garden, which was surrounded by fence to keep out the deer.
Even when my great-grandfather became more prosperous and began to purchase cars, the yard hardly changed. The automobiles were either parked in the barn or in the shop, which was converted from horse-shoeing to car repair.