A Weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch





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July 14, 2000

It takes time...

© 2000, Douglas E. Welch

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 English speaking.

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 unwired.

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.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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