Change, technology adoption, and resistance

technology-adoptionWe are all aware that new technology often meets with resistance, the most recent and well-publicised case is that of the tax app Uber. The problem is some people seem to think that resisting change is unnatural. It isn’t.

As I’ve got older I realise that you get into patterns in life, and it can be hard to break those patterns. You also develop skills and technological changes may affect those skills. Consequently, the more you do something, and so the older you get, you harder it is to change.

A recent article on Kevin Benedict’s blog reckons resisting technology is like resisting aging. If like me you are over 40 (well over), that may sound a little crazy. But if also like me you have children, you know that you have to change your attitudes about many things as your children grow up.

One of the current themes on technology is how it may reduce the rate of job increase – or put another way, how technology reduces jobs. For example, this is a main concern of Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson. But as the Benedict blog post points out, there can be other more positive aspects. The introduction of photography had a devastating effect on artists in the portraiture industry, making many jobless. However, this led to the development of the Impressionist movement.

An industry that has been affected by technology is the printed newspaper. It is well-known that print media has been in decline as the Internet has grown. There is an interesting story in LinkedIn of how two different media companies reacted to technology changes. The New York Times and South African media group Naspers both faced the same issues around the beginning of the 21st century. The difference is that

The management of Naspers decided to ride, rather than fight, the technology tide while the management of the New York Times chose otherwise.

The result is that the New York Times’ revenue and profits in 2013 were less than 50 percent of what they were in 2000, whereas Naspers is now the largest Internet company outside the US and China.

Going back to the Uber case, an issue that frustrates me is how (mainly) US pundits seems to believe that their attitudes and approaches apply to other countries. Why are these pundits surprised about Uber being banned in Germany? It’s because technology adoption is spikey, not flat – being significantly affected by geography and national culture.

The ‘flat world’ view was most famously stated in Thomas Friedman’s book which stated that globalisation is effectively complete. Others however contest this view, and bring convincing data to show that the world is only 10 to 25 percent globalised.

In some ordinary activities, differences in the way urban areas have developed make shopping very different in the UK as opposed to the US.

Even when it comes to mobile technology, adoption is different. The USA is far more of an ‘Apple’ culture than the rest of the world, where Android has taken over.

We need to be mindful therefore about how technology impacts people. New technologies like the steam engine, photography, the motor car, and electricity did just take over from older technology, but mainly it was not a sudden change and societies had time (several years) to adapt. Companies like Uber need to remember that technology change and culture change often have to go hand-in-hand, and changing culture takes some time.


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