Not so much the early as the adoption

An article in yesterday’s New York Times caught my eye: over 9 million people still use AOL’s dial-up service, including one man mentioned in the article who also has a high-speed internet connection.

But what kept my eye was this observation by Paul Saffo:

Laggards have a bad rap, but they are crucial in pacing the nature of change. Innovation requires the push of early adopters and the pull of laypeople asking whether something really works. If this was a word in which only early adopters got to choose, we’d all be using CB radios and quadraphonic stereo.

I don’t know that I’m a laggard (well, I know that I am, but not in this particular area), but I’m often a techno-skeptic. From working with frontline people in organizations, I know how stressful and even illogical new technology can seem.

It’s true, of course, that many people actively avoid technology. The corporate training field still includes many people who want nothing more than to do stand-up courses, and a dispiriting number of clients think that’s just great.

I don’t know if there are studies on this, but my own hunch is that most people move from the specific to the general, rather than vice-versa. So for them, hearing about open source or social networks,or blogs is like reading about traditional Scottish music styles instead of listening to Buddy MacMaster.

During my time with GE Information Services, use of our proprietary email service expanded from mainframe consoles and dumb terminals to the newly-released IBM PC. Mainframe users who could make Fortran tapdance saw the PC as a passing fancy; PC-using early adopters tended to get all wound up about using QEMM to squeeze another 10 or 20 kilobytes out of DOS.

Somewhere in between were people who saw ways that people in an organization could communicate efficiently and effectively via email, without having ever moved jumpers on a circuit board.