Opinion

Why novel technologies are at first resisted

Why novel technologies are at first resisted
  • Before cars became a commonplace, horses and donkeys were the predominant mode of transport, but with many limitations.
  • The horse and donkey rides exposed passengers to the ravages of Mother Nature.

Last week, this column carried an article headlined, “Digital currencies: a bankable idea or a fad?” The topic elicited a volley of emails from readers who find the concept of digital currencies too difficult to grasp. Many of them were sceptical about the viability of digital currencies.

For others, the difference between digital and conventional currency is as dissimilar as night is to a day.

It is not unusual for innovations to be met with scepticism or even outright dismissal — because many people find it hard to mentally associate what they already know to the proposed new service or product.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Here are some examples. In less than two years, Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Volvo and pretty much most of the car manufacturers will start selling self-driving cars to countries that have the infrastructure for such cars. But many people are cynical about the idea. They are cynical because they are used to driving or being driven by a human being.

To them, the idea of sitting in a moving car without a driver is unfathomable.

Before cars became a commonplace, horses and donkeys were the predominant mode of transport, but with many limitations. Transportation was slow, expensive and dangerous in some instances. The horse and donkey rides exposed passengers to the ravages of Mother Nature.

Then cars came to replace the animals. Automobiles were billed to solve the problems faced by travellers and transporters.

They could carry larger loads. They could travel further and faster than animals. Unlike donkeys and horses that dirtied cities and roads with their manure, vehicles left a clean trail.

FASTER HORSES

But getting people to buy into the idea of engine-operated cars, as opposed to horse-drawn carriage was hard to envision. The car concept was a tough calculus: Most people preferred stronger and faster horses.

When the first car drove through the streets of New York, onlookers were wondering why the cart was moving without a horse. The horses were equally marvelled because they were not used to seeing fast-moving contraptions competing with them on the road. The snarl of cars and plumes of fumes that trailed cars left the community — people, horses and donkeys in awe.

Here is my point: Radical innovations are often met with resistance or slow uptake. Some collapse even before they see the light of the day.

INNOVATIONS

To successfully introduce sweeping innovations, it often requires wrapping the new technology in the cloth of the familiar. That way, consumers get a better grip of the innovation and are likely to warm up to it.

It’s the reason why, when you open most software applications, you click on the icon of a floppy disk to save documents, drag and drop files into what looks like a trash bin. These new features mirror what is already familiar to people, thereby thawing chances of resistance to a game-changing technology.

Mr. Wambugu is an Informatician. Email: @samwambugu2