Anti-Buzz: The Technofeeb

The Buzz: You must buy the newest thing!

The Anti-Buzz: You must buy it … eventually.

There is a lot of guilt pushed onto tech consumers. The computing industry is rife with tales of wild fortune, empires won and lost, billionaires made from “the hottest new thing” and even in the wake of occasional tech bubbles, it seems the newest trend is always deemed worth the risk of investment. This attitude spills over into how technology is sold to every day users, pushing the idea that you would be a fool to not enjoy the latest and greatest. If you’re a technophile and love spending money on whatever is new, then you’re golden, but if not, then you are hit with a modicum of tech guilt. You’re missing out. You’re wasting your time. You might even be wasting your money. You’re not the one with a stake in the next hot thing, it’s not your fortune that’s on the line, and yet a lot of the new toys get pushed as if you were being sold on stock shares rather than photo shares.

You aren’t a technophobe. You aren’t uncomfortable with computers. You understand the value of all this information that is now flowing down our streets in the wind wake of the Google Streetview Van. No, technophobe isn’t the right word; if you are like me, you are a technofeeb.

That’s right. I’m a technofeeb. I don’t have a smart phone, I am reading a paperback novel, and I still have all of my music on CD. I don’t watch television on the television, but I don’t stream it over Netflix either, meaning I am still tethered to physical media. I am just old enough to remember that displaying your relics of popular culture was how you let people know you were cool. Hiding all of your music on 1 square inch of iPod nano is neat but it kills the fun of showing off. Sorry, I digress only to relate that no matter your age or situation, you probably have some reasonable sounding cultural explanation for your technofeebility. I understand, I really do.

This site is primarily an advocate for using new technology, but should the technofeeble really feel so pressured to keep up? This week I advocate that be it for business or pleasure, your investment in technology is a personal affair and needs to happen at your own pace. Your comfort and confidence with new technology is just as important as any benefits it might bring.

The ideal situation is that when you begin using something new, it feels like an epiphany…

Going Too Fast

The ideal situation is that when you begin using something new, it feels like an epiphany, like you feel almost foolish for not having used it earlier. You are excited, and you want to consume this new tech as much as possible, and so you learn it well, get good mileage out of it, and everything turns out great. I think this is where gadget geekdom comes from – a mild addiction to these moments when a new service just clicks.

It also creates pressure to keep up with the Joneses.

The real problem with this pressure is that it eliminates your own agency in the matter. Whether it comes from a spouse, coworker or friend, if you feel pressured into something new, you’ll feel less responsible for it, which in turn will make you less likely to use the new technology frequently, which will increase the chances that you’ll eventually dismiss it as a waste of time. “Great! I’m stuck with this stupid phone that my friend likes, spending money on a data plan I don’t want, and I’ve used it to look up directions maybe two times!” Thus begins a slow descent from technofeeb to technophobe. If you don’t want a smart phone, don’t get one. Yes, you’re missing out and yes, you’ll be fine.

This effect can be even worse when adopting technologies for your business. If a salesman or IT professional sells you on doing something new, and your heart’s not into it, you run the risk of underusing the technology, and of undertraining your staff, which will waste your money, making it harder to adopt new technologies that do interest you, and making you less likely to take these risks when it might be more appropriate.

So, the rule: whenever you are going to move on to something new, you need to be excited for it. Don’t do it otherwise.

Going Too Slow

Letting you go at your own speed is also dangerous, because the tendency will always be to stagnate. Not moving until you are ready does not mean you should never get ready. Get ready to have a smart phone one day. Get ready to broadcast yourself on Facebook. Get ready to store all your patient records in the cloud. But how? How do get yourself excited for new things without diving headlong into technophilia?

Your best resources are your friends, colleagues and coworkers. They are a font of word-of-mouth, the only advertising you should really trust. See what they use. Pay attention. Note every time something useful happens. I was late to the text-messaging game, but on a long road trip, with multiple parties trying to coordinate a lot of things, it became clear to me how much more efficient it could be than a regular phone call. It sounds like a contradiction. I just told you not to let your friends pressure you into something and then I tell you to look to them for advice. The middle ground, really, is that you are open-minded and observant. Listen to them talk about why they like something.

In business: investigate. If your IT wants to convert your database to some UNIX system, ask them what the benefit to you is. If a salesman can only hit you with buzzwords, tell them to re-explain it until it makes sense to you. Diligence is key. Don’t ever be intimidated by the apparent techknowledge of someone else; don’t accept an explanation you don’t understand.

The rule: When the next new thing comes along, learn about it, and be honest about its usefulness.

Be diligent, and be excited to learn, but ultimately, be yourself.

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