When I saw the title of his article and read it, I didn’t want to just comment on it, I wanted my blog readers to have a chance to read it word-for-word. This is a great piece for many of your friends and peers in nonprofit fundraising… feel free to forward it to them!
The article is entitled: Why our aversion to technological advances is about to change
“Thomas Edison turned down the radio because it had no commercial value; Western Union turned down the telephone because management thought ‘it will never be more than a toy’; Thomas J. Watson Sr., founder and head of IBM, turned down the computer; and Kodak turned down the Xerox copier.”
- Donald A. Norman, The Invisible Computer (1998)
History is littered with wide scale aversion to new, disruptive technologies. And as renowned cognitive science academic Donald Norman notes above, it’s not just Joe and Jane Bloggs who fail to see the latent potential of new products – captains of industry are also prone to ‘missing the point’.
But what really interests me is the general attitude across society whenever new communication technologies are introduced to market. It never ceases to amaze me how dismissive folk are whenever something different comes along; something that offers a new way for people to interact with other people and the world around them.
I joined Facebook in 2007 – I was hardly an early adopter, but I wasn’t late to the table either – and I distinctly remember the attitude of many people at the time.
The argument against signing up to social networks was usually something like this:
“Why would you want to sit on the Internet and chat with friends when you should be out meeting and socializing with real friends? Geek!”
If each of these critics were genuinely out with their friends all the time, returning home only to sleep, then they’d maybe have a leg to stand on with their jibes. But everyone has time away from the outside world to have a little ‘me’ time.
More importantly, the irony of said individuals electing instead to sit at home staring at some mindless, unidirectional drivel on TV was completely lost on them. Why was it okay, and non-geeky, to be addicted to TV shows like Friends or Hollyoaks, but not quite-so-okay to spend half-an-hour or so perusing friends’ holiday snaps on Facebook?
Alas, their attitudes have evolved and they’re all on Facebook now. Oh, and they all use it a hell of a lot more than I do.
There are still a few stragglers out there, stubbornly fighting the social media onslaught, purely on principle from what I can tell. One of my friends said he saw a video I posted to Facebook recently, but before I could come close to uttering “I knew you’d give in and join”, he informed me that he was accessing Facebook on his mobile using his wife’s log-in details. That’s crazy.
Don’t get me wrong though. There are many, many good reasons for not wanting to communicate with your friends in this way (e.g. privacy concerns), but all this got me thinking about why there is such aversion to new communication technologies that come along.
From the industrial revolution, through to the humble telegraph and on to the connected, Facebook-addicted society we live in now, attitudes have always been the same to disruptive technology in any industry.
Generational patterns: Inspiring the inner LudditeEach generation has new technologies, and each one is equally skeptical about them. The same trend happens within music – whenever anyone my age says “All music today sounds the same”, or “There are no decent bands around anymore”, I have to remind them that their parents said the same thing, and so did their parents…and so on. If your finger isn’t on the pulse, you lose touch with how to actually find new, exciting music.
Ubiquitous ComputingBack in March we brought you news on a neat little fridge magnet that lets you order pizza directly from the door on your refrigerator.
Moreover, I really don’t see why hitting a fridge magnet to order a pizza is ‘lazy’. If that’s the case, surely ‘picking up a phone’ is lazy, when juxtaposed against the old way of doing things – getting up off your arse and walking to the shops. Or if we look even further back, get yourself a plot of land, grow your own ingredients and make your own damn pizza. In my rebuttal at the time, I wrote: “When phones enabled delivery services, people said ‘are people so lazy they can’t drive to the shop’. With the Internet and connected devices, people look back to the previous technological innovation as ‘the norm’.
My response was a little tongue-in-cheek, and took me about 10 seconds to write, but I couldn’t put it more succinctly today with more time on my hand to consider my response.
What’s wrong with satellite navigation?Let’s consider in-car satellite navigation systems too. That’s another technology that really inspired the inner Luddite in people when it first became popular about a decade ago. “I don’t like relying on technology to find my way around, I’d rather use a map and find my own way from A to B,” would be a typical put-down I’d hear.
Touchscreens: The normAnother example I’ve considered from the communications realm is touchscreen mobile phones. I was initially reluctant to buy a smartphone because I much preferred buttons – and I didn’t want a BlackBerry. Yes, there were other smartphone options that had buttons, but the options were limited.
Mobile phonesIf you think back… way back… to when mobile phones first started seeping into the public realm. I’m talking mid-to-late 1980s here. They generally attracted derision from people, with insults such as ‘yuppie‘ issued with careless abandon.
Exceptions: Example, SkypeThere are exceptions to all this, of course. Take Skype – I recall nothing but warm praise for the VoIP service when it launched a decade or so ago. Skype proved seriously disruptive to the traditional way of doing things, but why did this buck the typical trend of new technologies taking a while to be accepted?
Great article Paul !
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