Pardon me if I’m a skeptic. Enthusiasts live in a different sphere than the rest of us, who need to see benefits before adopting a new technology.
We tend to give a lot of weight to new technology. Perhaps more than we should. For example, did you know that less than 1% of all daily social media activity occurs on Twitter? Yet everyone I know feels Twitter pressure – like they should be on it, or use and understand it better than they really do. (In related news, 40% of Twitter users have never tweeted.) In our culture, there’s a service or device award entitled “Latest Technology” that gives special rights and privileges to the holder, deserved or not.
In reality, though, older technologies are the ones we slowly learn how to assimilate and use properly. Way past the sexy drop dead date, we finally “get” a technology, and use it in beneficial ways. Roy Amara of the Institute of the Future has described this phenomenon:
We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.
In other words, our culture is technologically ADD. The recurring pattern is to get excited about a new technology, then dispose of it when the next thing comes along. But in the long tail of old technology, things get done.
We might do well to stop making technology synonymous with “new” and focus instead on mastery. That may sound practically Luddite coming from someone others associate with new technology. To be clear, I’m not advocating that we don’t move forward. But, while we adopt new technologies, perhaps there are also ways to use existing technologies better. Good leadership evaluates all options.
Here are four things you need to know when considering a new technology, for business or personal use:
1. New technology is pathetically amateur and frustrating.
While a few early adopters do the sales work, most people hate new technology because it’s intrusive and difficult to understand. Only when it has been around for a long time, in some cases hundreds of years, do we fully assimilate and appreciate its value. Ironically, it’s often not until a technology moves from being new to old, replaced by another new technology, that we fully adopt it. 19th century churchgoers still said bad things about the use of books in worship. Spielberg was credited by Hitchcock with being the first filmmaker to not approach the medium as celluloid theater. In other words, it takes us a long time to figure new technology out.
In your organization, the real problems happen after installation – who do you have to take the new technology from functionality to mastery?
2. Before committing to new technology, consider your current options.
Granted, sometimes the existing options stink. But it’s good to check. For months, I had a workflow problem related to our worship program / bulletin. People blew deadlines with regularity. The designer was the de facto coordinator, collecting data from tardy staffers. Our pressman and volunteer print crew were often forced to stay late to compensate for others’ mistakes.
I needed to create a better workflow for development for weekly worship program. I looked at several new people and software-based workflows, and came back to our existing, cloud-based worship planning software, Planning Center Online, but used it to do perhaps more than what it was designed to do. It had the capabilities – and the existing training among staff – to make a convenient solution.
3. Remember that people get weary of new technology.
My mother was an early adopter on Facebook. She got on at the advice of friends, who told her it was a good way to see pictures of the grandkids. She’s adept at using it, too, but confided in me shortly after creating the account that she gets tired of the technology train and mostly wants to get off. I laughed because at 42 I often feel the same way, which may seem ironic, at least to those who have equated me with new technology. I like new gear, but I’m not a fanboy, and I need to understand the benefit before jumping on. How will it make my life more efficient?
With every new technology, focus on the immediate benefit to those who have the greatest doubts. I’ve added screens and image magnification in traditional worship settings by leading with shots of babies being baptized. Once you hear an entire congregation simultaneously say, “aaaah,” you know you’re in.
4. Change how you talk about technology.
Last, the presence of “new technology” does not mean we’ve introduced technology where there was previously none. Parchment and pen were once new technologies. So was an organ in church. Yet now when people talk of screens or social media use, they refer to “technology.” (These sorts of people usually don’t like new technology, either.) When questions about technology come up, they usually aren’t questions about adding technology, but adding different technology.
So don’t talk about new technology with your cohorts, which carries baggage of amateurism, frustration, and hassle. Instead, talk about different technology, which sounds evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and easier to assimilate. Use correct language, which creates reality, and strategize in steps rather than whole leaps.