No one moves through this world without leaving something of their selves behind. It might be a memory, a change in the landscape, or a tradition - everyone builds some kind of legacy in the time they have on this earth.
The same is true for other things in this world, too. Creatures leave behind proof that they've wandered the earth. Glaciers carve and re-define the landscape. Man-made machines and devices likewise create a legacy of their own, passed down through the generations. The fact that even our most habitual transitory actions today can have an effect on the shape of the future is one quickly forgotten. This is an unfortunate truth, but the depressing nature of our forgetfulness makes it no less true.
I spent this past weekend camping near the coast with the Boy Scouts. Part of our weekend was dedicated to learning the lost skill of animal tracking. We studied a few photographs of animal tracks, talked about different ways to creep near animals to take photos, and ran through a few scenarios meant to test our sensory perception. One of these exercises - stand with your eyes closed and feel the pressure in your feet ... then move your right arm to touch your nose and feel how the weight shifts ... these subtle shifts in your balance are read out in the tracks you leave behind while walking - really got me thinking.
Every product, irrespective of its success in the market, leaves some kind of evidence of both its entry to and exodus from public awareness. You can look back through history and see the impact a product has had on both a macroscopic and microscopic (in a market sense) terms. Certain families have less cash (or available credit) on hand following the release of techno-toys like the iPhone and iPad. Other families have larger portfolios during the same time period due to the spike in sales of Apple products.
Even when the iPad is a distant consumer memory, the effect it had on the market will still be relevant - a man purchasing the product today either has to not purchase something else or has to pay more in credit debt in the future. In either case, he has less money available for future purchases. This changes his buying behavior in the future and, while everything could even itself out over time, this minor blip on the consumer radar could still have an effect on unrelated businesses farther down the road.
The image above is of a trail taken by a Sea Otter off the South Jetty at Fort Stevens State Park. It was a relatively fresh trail when I took the photo - I missed seeing the otter itself by maybe 2-3 hours. Still, I spent a good hour following the tracks with a friend, studying the way it avoided rocks or used rocks or jumped over logs.
When the otter was bounding across the beach in the dim twilight hours of the morning, it had no idea that its aimless trail would be of such an interest to two passing Scouters some hours later. Yet that leisurely stroll that might have only taken 5 minutes continued to effect events several hours later.