As high-tech workers, all of us, myself included, must remember
a very important fact about technology. Regardless of how much we think technology has effected the world
or how quickly we believe it has done it, the truth is that the
adoption of technology will always take longer than we think and
have less effect than we might hope. Because we are deeply immersed
in the world of technology we are sometimes blind to the realities
of the outside world so it is good to keep apprised of those realities.
A computer in every home
One of the first misconceptions that you must re-evaluate every
day is that of the ubiquitous computer. Just because most of you
have a computer in some cases, more than one doesn't mean
that everyone has one. This was made very clear to me as I traveled
through Europe this last May.
Computers are still rather expensive in Europe, approximately
what we would have paid 3-4 years ago in the US. Telephone monopolies
also reduce Internet access since, in most countries, every minute
is billed regardless of the distance called. There are no local
calling areas that allow you , as here in the US, to hold a line
open to your ISP for free.
Finally, computing is still terribly English-centric. I worked
on the Windows PC of a family member when I was in Sicily and
while most of the Windows interface was translated to Italian,
computer jargon and some commands were still in English. This
presents a significant hurdle to new computer users who are not
Even here in the US, most estimates place the number of home with
computers only around 25%-30%. That leaves a large amount of America
Keeping up with the technology "Jones"
Another common misconception among high-tech workers is that all
computer users immediately embrace all technology. This simply
isn't true. While the growth of the Internet has been dramatic,
it is still a minority of people who use it on a daily basis.
Even VCR's haven't made 100% penetration in the US market even
though their prices are almost as low as they can be, with some
retail stores giving them away, like pocket knives in a previous
era, to entice other purchases.
As high-tech workers you might like to assume that everyone is
as interested and excited about technology as you are. The truth
is, though, that to most people, technology is on the periphery
of their lives. It is something they use and then forget. To high-tech
workers, though, technology is their work and often a large part
of their home life, as well.
The truth is, the adoption of various technologies is always slower
than you might think. It takes a very long time for any technology
to be accepted by a majority of the populous. Look at the visionaries
of the 1950's. By their thinking we should all be using flying
cars, living on the moon and under the sea and regularly traveling
to other planets. This is not meant to fault their vision. From
their viewpoint in time, the rapid acceleration of technology
was an ever-increasing trend. Considering only the technological
issues, we should be experiencing everything they envisioned and
more. Unfortunately, one important piece was missing from their
equation, people's natural reluctance to change.
In an environment where unlimited change was accepted, the 1950's
dream of the future would have already come and gone. The truth
is, though, that humans can only deal with a certain amount of
change, especially technological change, at any one time. It is
this reluctance that slows the adoption of technology even to
this day. It is neither good nor bad, it merely is a way of life.
What does it mean to you?
The next time you are recommending a dazzling new technology or
implementing a new system that has never existed before, take
a few moments to reflect on the items above. Are you using a technology
that only a minority of people have used before? Are you asking
them to accept an entirely new vocabulary of technological jargon?
Are you asking them to incorporate more change in their lives
than ever before?
Taking the time to view the new technology or service from the
average person's viewpoint can help you understand the reticence,
and sometimes-outright hostility, of people's reactions to new
technology. Bring your head down out of the cloud of the technological
heaven you might imagine and try to understand what those around
you are experiencing. Doing so can help both you and those you
serve come to grips with the ever-increasing speed of technology
innovation. If you are pressing the limits of yourself or others
to accept technological change you must also develop methods of
leading people down the technology path to the future that you
can see, but they may not yet understand.