Technology Acceptance and Why Your Grandmother Doesn’t Have a Smartphone

Thirty years ago, few would have guessed that today our phones would have the processing power of a small computer. At best, writers like Tom Clancy figured we would have a catch-all device that included GPS, phone, and connection to the internet (though to be fair, Tom Clancy also assumed we would be in virtual reality when dealing with the net) by now. But many of these future speculators guessed this technology would be ubiquitous and everyone would have it. But this is not the case. Virtually everyone has a cell phone, but even though many people have smart phones, not everyone does. Many people have e-book readers, but it is ultimately still a small market. We have this shift towards mobile computing, semantic web, social media, blah, blah, diddly, blah.

We have all these things but they are not unified. There is no default interface. Sure things carry over between iOS and Android, but they act like two different beasts. Regular scrolling, inverse scrolling, horizontal scrolling, and tilt scrolling all are on one kind of OS or another. Even as more and more gadgets become ubiquitous, we will get more and more “unique” ways to interact with those gadgets. But what we won’t get is unity. This lack of unity is what I think drives down a great portion of technology acceptance rates.

Sure, money is an issue. Not everyone can afford a $400 cell phone but they can afford it if it is free or even under $100. What many people fear, though, is how something works. Sure, I got a flashy new Porsche 911 GT2RS but if I don’t know how the launch control works, then I look like a fool trying to race someone at a stop light. Bells and whistles can be great but also equally overwhelming when put into the hands of someone who has not been exposed to such technology. The overwhelming part is what scares people away. They are already set in their ways doing something in a particular manner and are less likely to want to do something differently especially if it means interacting with something new and confusing. Your grandmother doesn’t have a smart phone not because she doesn’t like catching up with you or is not interested in playing Scrabble with you, it is because a smart phone represents an investment in money and time and would require new habits to be developed that might upset other well established habits.

So how do we get around this? We have to think about how we interact with things on a more base level. Why does it make sense for me to use multitouch and why does it boggle my grandmother’s mind? I was brought up thinking about these things (and a helpful dose of SciFi didn’t hurt) and could draw parallels to certain things that made interacting with things like an XBOX controller and touchscreen phone make sense. What we have to do is find an analog for others to understand. Some aboriginal from the Outback isn’t going to get that if he or she talks to the phone, Siri will answer back. We have to create interfaces and devices that communicate what they are doing and how they do it. Cellphones that resemble traditional phones are more likely to sell. Phones that look like some kind of dark Borg technology fail because people see that and don’t get it is a phone; they don’t recognize a parallel or the form as a phone and shun it.

We have to explain and design things in terms of the old for people to understand the new. Slowly we can alter the design and change the form of the new to slowly move away from old to get something that resembles something new yet I still understand what it is. If you gave the iPhone 4S or the Samsung Galaxy S II to someone 20 years ago, they might not get that those are phones but show the same phones to someone ten years ago and they would see the resemblance. We are more likely to accept that which is familiar so if we want to increase technology acceptance rates, then we need to look to the old to inform the new rather than constantly making clean breaks to establish a new order.

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