Clive Thompson has an excellent theory of the emergence of new technologies, which he credits to Bill Buxton.

Rather than coming from nowhere, new technologies are apparent in the world long before they reach widespread public consciousness:

“…very few major technologies emerge suddenly. Quite the opposite: They’re usually the product of gradual tinkering and experimentation, with engineers and designers puttering around for years or even decades. Things get slowly refined, and the new tech starts being used in real-world circumstances, but mostly in niche areas.

“Eventually some mass-market inventor notices these niche uses and realizes huh, this tech really works now. They build it into a mainstream product – which bursts into truly mass adoption.”

Knowledge of this can enable you to search out technologies that might well reach mass adoption in the future:

“If you wanted to predict the Next Big Thing, the Long Nose theory suggests that you don’t need to look in top-secret corporate innovation labs or in the latest scientific literature.

“No, you look in the world around you. As Buxton told me, you go “prospecting and mining” – and see what tools are already being eagerly used in areas that lie just outside the mainstream. Those are the technologies that are being stress-tested to the point where they’re ripe to become a mass phenomenon. And you look for something that has that element of ‘surprising obviousness.’”