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Fear of New Technology

2010 February 24

Now, only two days after I recommend holding off on adopting new technologies until a need is demonstrated, I give you a warning that might seem contradictory: don’t fear new technology.

A recent article in Slate discusses historical fear of new technology.  Consider this quote:

A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner, might have been the first to raise the alarm about the effects of information overload. In a landmark book, he described how the modern world overwhelmed people with data and that this overabundance was both “confusing and harmful” to the mind. The media now echo his concerns with reports on the unprecedented risks of living in an “always on” digital environment. It’s worth noting that Gessner, for his part, never once used e-mail and was completely ignorant about computers. That’s not because he was a technophobe but because he died in 1565.

New technology itself should not be feared; only the implications of implementing that technology blindly.  There’s a big difference between 1) clinging onto your training program because it worked ten years ago and 2) choosing to stay with your training program because you conducted a needs analysis, identified no technology that would do the job any better, and decide not to change anything because it’s the right decision for your business.

So the message is really the same as last time: don’t jump in blindly, but also don’t fear the unknown.  The trick is to stay familiar with new technologies such that you are aware of what they offer in case you need them while still maintaining a level head when making implementation decisions.

There’s unfortunately no magic bullet to any organizational problem, and the sooner you realize that, the better off your business will be.

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  1. Shawna permalink
    February 24, 2010

    I like how that quote undercuts the “novelty” thesis being shoved around lately: that the information overload that we’re experiencing is somehow new in human history. I’m teaching Wells’ The Time Machine right now, and I’m trying to show my students how the Victorians (with improvements in cheap newsprint/ink and the postal service, inventions like wireless telegraphy and the telephone, and transportation technologies like the railway and the subway) felt exactly like we do. Completely overloaded with information. Yes, it feels like a break with the past, but people have felt like that before, and we should learn from their experiences about how we can best deal with it.

    Kind of off-topic, but it’s related.

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