Can technology really change behavior?

Images-1This is a subject I have thought a lot about recently.  I am fortunate that I see a lot of businesses that are using technology to change the way we live our lives.  I also think to myself, "will this play in Peoria?".  No disrespect to Peoria because what I am really thinking is how long will it take for this to move out of the excited early adapters of the start-up world to everyone else…and will it.

I do not know the answer but here are a few things that I have witnessed recently which just makes me wonder.  I was sitting in the doctors office this past week and next to me was a woman that I would put to be in her early 60's.  On her knee she had her check book and she was balancing her check book.  It was the exact check book that I used when I was in college.  Totally old school.  It obviously worked for her.  Then she took out of her bag a Filofax where she had paperwork stored including her calendar and address book.  Funny enough she also had an old blackberry and she appeared to be taking information from it and writing it down in her check book and filofax.  My conclusion is that the blackberry was purely for communication purposes. 

In the late 80's I remember walking through the garment center and seeing two random men talking on phones that were as large as their head.  I thought why on earth do they need to be constantly connected like that.  It just seemed utterly ridiculous and of course expensive.  This is certainly an area where consumer behavior has totally changed. 

My brother is embarking on his next career journey.  My sister-in-law asked if he would help her get organized while he was working out of the house with her.  She has her own successful business that she runs out of a home office to be with the kids.  The ultimate balance multi-tasker.  My brother tried to help but she kept saying well that won't work because that is not how I do it.  I know Fred has wanted me to put lists in particular ways so he can have access and analyze the data how he likes to do it and it just doesn't work for me.  I do not think like that. 

I can imagine a lot of ways to make our lives easier particularly when it comes to managing our healthcare or managing our money.  I do believe that when people in college start using certain products as they enter adulthood will be the time when many of the behavior changing options will begin to stick.  Once most people go down a certain path on how they run their lives it is really hard to change their behavior.  Most people do not like change. 

That doesn't mean that the companies that are building life changing technologies aren't exciting, it just means that it will take some time before they scale to the masses. 



Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    Mass market feels like a larger number than ever before. Because you can realistically target the masses on the web the step to adoption is more daunting as the proof point is so high.On a global basis to ‘everyone’ outside of core stuff like phones and mail, only Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter have really inherited the mass market.Niches, verticals are different but cross over to everyone is a small number.

    1. Gotham Gal

      agreed. cross over to everyone is a very different number.

  2. Susan Rubinsky

    I think about this all the time. For generations that are already established when a new technology emerges that could replace a manual process, the only way it can take hold is when the new product has enough features that make it easier, more reliable and cheaper to use the new technology.As a 40-something person who has always been an early adopter, it took me a very long time to cross over from my paper day planner to a digital calendar. I had my Palm (my one device which actually worked for a full 10 years) for my contacts and even though it had a calendar, I still used my paper calendar. Not until Google added enough features like color coding, multiple calendars and, most importantly, no worries about syncing did I finally jump over.You are right about younger generations. If they grow up with it, they will just use it naturally. But some things they will not use. For example, my son is 16 and he likes to sketch. I also like to draw and I carry a wire bound sketch pad everywhere with me. To date there is no technology — no tablet + software — that even comes close to having a pencil and paper in hand. This won’t happen in my lifetime if even my son gravitates first to paper and pencil.The tipping point occurs two ways: 1. generationally and 2. when the technology is better than the old wayAnother area I am interested in observing is digital publishing. I am a voracious reader. I take notes in the margins and draw in my sketch book when I am reading a book. I have yet to try a tablet/device + software that is as efficient and robust as my current method. Until that exists, I won’t leap. However, I know that the majority of people don’t read like I do.A device is great for light reading, but not for intensive study. Can’t wait to see how it evolves to meet academic needs — true academic needs, not the needs of publishers. It’s totally in it’s infancy.

    1. falicon

      +100As a developer, I’m a *huge* fan of technology…but I agree with your tipping point analysis very much. In fact, I try to constantly keep it in mind as I build new stuff…knowing that, if it’s not truly new, unique, and useful then it will certainly be a long and expensive road to ‘mass adoption’ (if that’s the goal).

    2. Gotham Gal

      My kids read on a kindle. The highlight. I see when they read paper that they make notes in the margins. That is still not perfected anywhere else but good old paper and pen. You are so right.

      1. bsoist


      2. Susan Rubinsky

        My son reads on a Kindle too but when he has to read a novel that he knows he has to write a paper on, he asks for a paperback copy and writes notes in the margins.

      3. Cam MacRae

        I don’t know how they do it. When the paper refers to Figure 3., which might have landed just about anywhere when the article was typeset, there is no good way to find it while keeping your place. Until someone can magic me a solution I’ll continue to murder trees.

    3. bsoist

      When I got my first Kindle, the draw was that I would not have to carry a dozen books when I travel. An added, and unanticipated, benefit for me has been that I can actually see the text. Because of those things, I read almost everything on it, but I very much prefer a “real” book.I’ve also noticed that my son (19) and his friends are pushing back against technology in some ways. They all have notebooks in which they write story ideas, sketch storyboards, etc. They know they could do it with a digital tool, but they specifically choose not to.

      1. Susan Rubinsky

        I sometimes read on the Kindle too but once I start getting the itch to take notes, I jump to the hard copy. I also love reading the newspaper on my Galaxy Note. I find I catch up on the news on it whenever I am waiting somewhere…I’m severely myopic so I have to hold books really close to my face unless I’m wearing my glasses. I find that it’s nice to read from a device in bed at night so I don’t have to wear my glasses.

        1. bsoist

          With glasses, my vision is not terrible, but it’s not perfect either. I always assumed that since it was so bad at age four, it would keep getting worse. I’ve learned that I actually have very healthy eyes that just don’t see well. So, that’s the good news.The bad news is that I have three options – large print, very bright lighting directly on the page, or a digital device. I used to read a lot on a laptop, but since I stare at a screen a lot, I wanted the Kindle when it came out. The other two benefits I mentioned have been huge, but another is that it is flat. With a book, I find myself moving it around to get the proper lighting.

  3. bsoist

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately too. In the early 90s I did a lot of work with professionals who were overwhelmed with all the technology choices – do I need a laptop and a PDA? Why?I’m the type to get new gadgets all the time, but I’m very cautious about letting technology dictate my life. I’ve always admired the Amish approach to technology. Will the technology benefit me without ruining me?On the one hand, my wife and I both leverage technology for our benefit much more than most of our friends. On the other, I still can’t adjust to some of the newer technology. I preordered the original 3G iPad and I use it all the time, but I still feel the nudge to push things back to my desktop and follow up in a more comfortable environment. This comment is a great example. Sitting with my dog and a glass of tea this morning, like every other morning, I read your post in my RSS reader on my iPad. When I decided to comment, I pushed it over to Evernote so I could comment now – sitting at my desk with my keyboard.I’m just used to doing things a certain way. I sometimes stray from that in a pinch, but not very often.

    1. Susan Rubinsky

      There is nothing like a keyboard for writing quickly (at least at this time).

  4. Brenda Coffee

    I began my career as a filmmaker and a journalist, a story teller. I love everything about books: the excitement I feel when opening a book for the first time, even the smell of a new book and the feel of its cover. To my great surprise and delight, however, I love reading books on my iPad. I’m always highlighting passages; looking words up in the dictionary for further clarification and taking copious notes in the digital margins.Your post, however, makes me think of the old adage: It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Many old dogs have a natural curiosity about new technology and take to it like a pup with frisbee, while others simply learn things like texting so they’re not perceived as “old farts.”My mother’s in a dementia facility and every week I pull out my iPhone and amaze the ladies at her lunch table: I take their pictures and video Dorothy as she shows me her Mardi Gras beads. I bring up the compass and the flashlight and show Elenora a photo of main street in the town where she grew up. They think I’m Houdini!I can already see my generation when we’re the ones in the dementia facility. We’ll probably remember how to text; we just won’t remember what we did with our iPhone.

    1. LE

      “even the smell of a new book and the feel of its cover.”When I was single I used to love reading the paper at night and how fresh and crisp it was as I unfolded it. There was definitely an attraction there. Now that I am married, and my wife has taken to the WSJ, by the time I get home the paper is all riffled through and not perfect anymore. It’s almost like the same reason when you buy a new pair of shoes you don’t want them worn even though you yourself will create usage marks the first day. It’s almost ritualistic.The reason for this is simple. There is an addictive element at work and the mere look of a book puts you in a happy place. I know when I used to visit Barnes and Noble I got happy just thinking about it and then walking around and killing time (especially if there is a cafe and a place I can setup my laptop). While there are several B&N near where I live I haven’t done that in some time. I don’t get the same pleasure from printed books anymore because with the web I get a much wider variety of opinions and material and as far as entertainment value there is already to much to read. At night, when I used to sit in bed with a book I now sit in bed with a laptop and read.I have bought perhaps 60 or 70 programming books over time. I used to have so much fun shopping for the right book. I remember driving up and getting my first programming book at the University Bookstore (and getting a speeding ticket while in high school). I don’t need to do that anymore because I can get almost everything I need by simply googling what I need to know.

  5. Jeff T

    The most quickly adopted and pragmatic of technologies are those that take our current behavior and improve upon it, make it more efficient, and remove obstacles. But the best technologies are those which truly do change our behaviors and push us to something new, unexpected, but great. This happens much, much less often, but when it does it captures everyone’s attention.

  6. cjwesterberg

    Mahalo for a great post. Glad you are asking this authentic question. Technology has always changed what we do – not all is good, not all is bad.Is our “new” technology better for everything? For this person . . . for everyone? Why does it have to be?Does it have to scale? Most comments reflect personal preferences.New technology has also made life more complicated since it has come at such a fast rate. Now it takes more and more time to keep up. Less simple. Not exactly the promise. I think now second stage adopters (as opposed to 1st-adopters who thrive on new products or whose jobs depend on it) are saying, “Meh” on more and more “stuff.” Stuff being the latest and the greatest. While once the pressure was to be in-the-know and not to be outdated in one’s profession, now . . . methinks the tipping point may be here.The question is now: is this new technology another costly and useless plastic toy that will fill my garage, abandoned after six months (even if the toy is not a physical thing but a mental to-do thing to download or to be in one’s quiver?)Being an education writer, researcher and entrepreneur, I see how the tech golden ring – scale – can drive great things yet turn intentions in an unintended way.Not sure how much the younger generation is really producing technology rather than consuming it, which the former would be more the point one would hope.Being human will always be scalable.