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Monday, July 12, 2004
Just time for a quick and splenetic rant before bed. Three times in the past week we've come across one of the most odious clich├ęs in the third-rate business writer's armoury.

There are several slight variations, but the main theme is something along the lines of "Given today's ever-increasing pace of change, businesses must...blah, blah blah."

It really doesn't matter what comes after this, because the intelligent reader has already sheered off to examine the truth of this first, dubious proposition.

No-one disputes that we live in a fast-changing world. In the past ten years alone, we've seen the arrival of the Internet, iPods, Viagra, camera phones and large-scale outsourcing (manufacturing to China, services to India).

But you don't have to know much about the world since the Industrial Revolution to know that it's an egocentric delusion to believe that today's world is changing faster than ever.

Let's pick another decade, almost at random. How do the 1870s, for example, measure up?

Well, they gave birth to adding machines and typewriters, barbed wire and telephones, light bulbs and umbrellas, cathode ray tubes and cash registers, photographic film and electric trams.

That seems like a lot of change to us. And just to prove it wasn't a flash in the pan, the following ten years added the flush toilet, petrol engines and motor cars, the safety razor and the a/c transformer, fans and irons and gramophones and tyres and seismographs and punched cards and typesetting machines.

We could go on (it's quite good fun researching this). The Twenties gave us frozen food, insulin and aerosols, electric shavers, television, penicillin, talking movies, cropdusting, loudspeakers and pearl lightbulbs. The Sixties and Seventies gave us moon landings and supersonic civil aviation, though, of course, we've given them back now.

All in all, the assumption that things are changing any faster today than they did in the past is not one that should be taken too seriously. Indeed, the closer you look, the harder it is to substantiate. The fact that it's a hackneyed, lazy way into an article is bad enough. The realisation that it's probably not true should strengthen the intrepid e-editor's resolve as he or she boldly strikes out the offending intro and leaves the piece starting with paragraph two.

The live blog for everybody who lives and dies by the word. The UK's top guide to editing better and getting more respect for it is at www.e-editor.co.uk.

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