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Peop le often say things like, “If we go down that path there’s no going back,” or, “Now that it’s happened, we’re stuck with it.” Such phrases recognise something about the way events acquire their own momentum: the fact that something happens once means that it is more likely to happen again; the most important factor in history is, in a sense, history itself. Economics has a phrase for this idea: “path-dependence.” The concept is particularly useful as a way of explaining why certain technologies stick—the classic example being the Qwerty keyboard layout. The designers of early typewriters settled upon…

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