Evolution for Dummies

(…aka Evolution for Techies, Geeks & MBAs)

Six years ago, a few of us were trying to debate evolution on an online forum, and were surprised to find that many people had so many misconceptions about what Evolution really is (‘theory not law’, ‘monkeys are humans’ ancestors’, ‘microevolution vs macroevolution’ etc.). We were really tired of asking everyone to do some preliminary reading about it before declaring it absolute truth or a hoax. We were also tired of hearing the same arguments/misconceptions again and again and again. So I wrote this post, to make it simple for everyone to understand what Evolution is in its barebones form.

So here goes, with a few minor tweaks & changes:

Evolution by itself is not a theory, it’s a phenomenon. In organisms it is a slow process, with certain jumps that speed it up. In other things you may see it at a good pace.

Natural selection happens everywhere – organisms, substances, compounds, companies, societies, corporations, bands, artists, theories, technologies. Anything that interacts with its environment is affected by evolution.

An example close to my heart is that of cameras. 10 years back film cameras ruled the world – right? Now they don’t. In another 10 years time they’ll be extinct. How’s that? Cameras are objects that interact a lot with their environment – no, not the pictures they take. Cameras need supplies to function – a power source and a storage. Before digital imaging came along the storage function was fulfilled by film rolls only. Then digital imaging was developed, and now consumer levels cameras have also gone digital. Similarly, Ni-Cad batteries have given way to Ni-MH.
So cameras have ‘evolved’ from film to digital.

Does that mean a Nikon film camera literally turned into a Nikon digital camera? Or that someone opened its casings and then changed the parts therein? then how is it that in 1980’s the cameras were film only and in say 2020, the cameras will be digital only and film cameras will be ‘extinct’?

It’s because of the environment. There may be people who prefer film over digital any day. They keep film alive even today. But they’ll be able to keep doing that only till they find new film in the market – a factor of the environment. When, say, a few of them encounter a stock-out of 35mm in the town, they’ll either stop shooting or buy and start using a digital camera. Maybe they’ll like it better, maybe they’ll not. But they’ll still use it now because if they want to shoot using film, they won’t be able to because of the film stock out (they of course are aware that digital has become the rave nowadays and the stock out isn’t going to go away sometime soon). The markets will sense that the demand for film is decreasing, so they’ll reduce their output of film, and keep churning out digital storage media. Eventually all shops in the world will stop stocking film, and then film will be extinct. So wil the film cameras. Natural selection. Digital cameras ‘adapted’ to the environment (that they were built to adapt, or that the markets were catering to them is not the point here… still if you want to know why, just post a reply, I’ll answer that as well), film cameras weren’t equipped to ‘adapt’ to the environment. Thus film will be dead in some time. The cameras from 1980s without film and power will become fossils of their own ‘living’ self in 2020. I can show you fossils of my dad’s cameras which used film that’s not available today.

Now on to companies. Say there existed a company which was the world leader in film. But never cared enough for digital imaging – myopia, stupidity, whatever. It thought that it could sustain itself on the film lovers mentioned above. It forgot that its distribution doesn’t reach EVERY shop in the world. So some of these film lovers do not use film made by this particular company. Now there comes a day that all the other film companies have either shut down or moved to digital. Say there were 10 film lovers. When 4 of them find out that the film they were using regularly isn’t available anymore they move to digital. The remaining 6 still use our company’s film. But the market has shrunk – you have 100% market share in a decreasing market… eventually the remaining 6 are going to move to digital. And the company cannot sustain itself long term on a diminishing market. Pragmatism prevails, and the company is closed down. Natural selection – the company failed to adapt to its environments.

Now on to the question of lineage etc.

Say that there was another company that was a market leader in film, say Nikonica. Its leaders foresaw the digital imaging future, and decided to start producing digital media ‘as well’. So as happens in corporations, a factory & department is made to handle digital operations. So the VPs of the film & digital department are called VP, Nikonica Classic and VP, Nikonica Digital respectively. Time goes by and by the natural selection explained above Nikonica Classic loses customers in a diminishing market. One day the company board decides to shut down Nikonica Classic. In the meanwhile Nikonica Digital has been doing roaring business – is a top market share holder, and is now the entire business of the company. The company Nikonica has ‘evolved’ into ‘Nikonica Digital’. Treat the original company as a parent species and the two, Classic & Digital, as the children – both different in their characteristics, fit for different environments. It’s just that the environment was more favourable to Digital than to Classic.
I love open markets… they mimic nature and its laws so closely that it fascinates me. They also follow evolution, and even the Theory of Evolution fits them quite nicely. Only that the evolution in case of markets is way way faster than that in living organisms.

Disclaimer: Evolution doesn’t necessarily mean ‘improvement’ or isn’t a process to become ‘superior’. It’s just a process of becoming ‘better adapted’.

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