At this time, I believe we are witnessing smartphones move from Stage 2 to Stage 3. What is the indicator for this grand cultural shift? Dilbert. Popular culture is my barometer for technologies’ movement through the four stages, and Scott Adams’ comic strip is an excellent indication of tech trends and ideas as they move from the über-geeky to the edge of the mainstream. (Right now, about 33 percent of adult American cellphone owners have a smartphone, according to Pew.) On Dec. 17, Adams ran a strip about smartphones and fear. Adams’ technically incompetent Pointy-haired Boss explains to the evil Catbert that he doesn’t trust his new smartphone because it understands spoken language and he’s worried that it has its own agenda. Just after Catbert tells the boss that he’s just being paranoid, the smartphone verbally demands to be recharged or it will delete all the boss’s contacts.
Humor is what takes us from Stage 2 to Stage 3; humor gives us the chance to laugh at the very real fear—that the technology is becoming too smart, that we will lose the ability to function without it—inside us.
Stage 3: “I’ll never use it!!”
Reaction upon receiving the said technology as a Christmas or birthday gift after the boogeyman of doom has slowly faded. Soon after insisting that he/she will never use this thing, the person may realize how useful and/or fun it can be.
Stage 3 occurs when the early adopters—those who lined up for the iPhone, for example—take matters into their own hands and begin forcing their more technologically fearful friends and family to catch up by giving the hot new gadget as a gift. (See the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry bought his father an expensive personal organizer, which Morty saw as a tip calculator.) Typically, there is a bit of denial and rejection—but then they see the magic. For some, it’s the iPhone multi-touch screen. For others, it’s getting movies and music on the Web. For me, it was playing Bezerk on the Atari 2600.
This holiday season, Stage 3 technologies lined big-box stores and the pages of online retailers. This year, it was the iPad 2 and the Kindle Fire.
Stage 4: “What are you going on about?”
As people begin using the technology in their daily lives, they forget about the fear. I would humbly like to submit Johnson’s Addendum to Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic until about two weeks of using the technology, upon which time it becomes mundane.”
This brings us to Stage 4; the most boring and anticlimactic end to the story. For me as a futurist, this is the most fascinating and amazing stage in the process. When a technology becomes mundane, it gets absorbed into the fabric of our lives and the history of our culture. This is true success for any technology development. Though their representatives might deny it, Google and Apple actually strive to be dull, not cutting-edge. Once a company’s product becomes ordinary, it has been knit into our lives and history.
No technology typifies the four stages of technology adoption more than the once terrifying but now humble satellite. The 20th century saw the satellite rip though each stage of technology adoption, beginning with world-ending horror and ending up as blissfully commonplace.