Why People Resist New Technologies

Why do people resist new technologies? Innovation is a social process, it’s why the default state of every new idea is non-adoption. Most people fear innovation because it eliminates what is, with no certainty for what could be. But, Innovation itself is not the problem, it’s how society is structured and how it responds to technological shifts.

Calestous Juma, explores why people resist new technologies in his new book Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies. Juma analyzed cases over 600 years of technological controversy and concluded that resistance to new technologies comes from three key constituents, including the average consumer:

Juma identified in his research three key sources of opposition to innovation: those with commercial interests in existing products, those who identify with existing products and those who might lose power as a result of change. The first group is perhaps the most obvious. Many industries have been disrupted, and even decimated, by innovation. Just take a look at the futile efforts of music publishers to stop or slow the transition to digital music, another topic Juma tackles in his book. Some consumers might oppose an innovation because the existing product is deeply entrenched in their identity, culture or customs. Britons preferred tea time at home to lounging in a coffee shop, for example. Finally, the emergence of new technologies can also result in a shift in economic and political power, redistributing wealth and influence away from some groups and toward others. The expansion of tractors and other mechanical equipment reduced the need for farm labor, and the shift in population away from rural areas had significant political implications, Juma writes.

An important point is that people typically don’t fear new technology, they fear the loss it will bring.

Perception of Loss

Society tends to reject new technologies when they substitute for, rather than augment, our humanity. Our desire to humanize technology is captured in the humour of this Bradley’s Bromide: “If computers get too powerful, we can organize them into a committee – that will do them in.”

Many reasons inspire technological anxiety, some of which are reflected in outright opposition. A key reason for resistance to technology is perception of loss, not just the newness of technology. The loss can be in the form material, power or identity. Much of the opposition is driven by belief systems, which is often amplified and can’t be calmed by facts.

It is often the uncertainty over the outcomes that creates anxiety, not the technology itself.

Bottom line: People don’t resist change, rather being changed. Primarily, an aversion to loss is what triggers our resistance to the new even when it’s in our best interest not to.

When do we adopt new technologies?

We eagerly embrace them when they support our desire for inclusion, purpose, challenge, meaning and alignment with nature. We do so even when they are unwieldy, expensive, time-consuming to use, and constantly break down.

Two key criteria fit technologies that are easily adopted:

  • Technologies that are vastly superior to their predecessors are more easily adopted;
  • People flock to technologies that make them more autonomous and mobile.

Why is this topic important? Because, more so than in years and decades past, we are living in a time when technology is becoming embedded in our everyday lives; making us more efficient but also more numb because of it.

We are technology and technology is us.

Are we becoming immune to technology?