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Post Date:  February 28, 2018
Post Title:  Recognizing Technology As a ‘Socially Constructed Product’

For every successful technology, there are hundreds of failures.

Each of the theories and models shared in this blog series, including Tarde’s laws of imitation, Kurzweil’s law of accelerated returns, and Roger’s theory of diffusion of innovations, provides an explanation about the role of social psychology, communication, and technology in the adoption of technology. However, despite the wealth of information and past research available on this topic, only a small fraction of innovations is embraced by the majority and proven to be commercially sustainable.

Why do some great innovations never take off or quickly fizzle while others spread?

Tech adoption doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

One thing that is certain is that adoption of new technology does not occur in a vacuum. It depends on the innovation itself (i.e., how good and relevant it is), as well as the environment where it is being introduced.

Kurzweil argues that timing and context are significant determinants of successful diffusion. He uses a surfing analogy to make his point, saying “inventing is a lot like surfing: you have to anticipate and catch the wave at just the right moment” (Kurzweil, 2005, p.3).

“Inventing is a lot like surfing: you have to anticipate and catch the wave at just the right moment” ~ Kurzweil

Adaptive Structuration Theory.

One theory that may help to unpack the mystery of failed adoptions is the adaptive structuration theory (AST) by Marshall Scott Poole and Gabriel DeSanctis. AST explains the unique ways in which organizations implement advanced information technologies and the impact it has on the adoption and evolution of technology.

Poole and DeSanctis argue that the unexpected outcomes of technology adoption within organizations, or any social group, are the result of the subjectivity of people who are involved in the process of adoption. In other words, technology is multi-dimensional; described as both “an objective reality” as well as a “socially constructed product” (Orlikowski, 1992, p.423).

Context is critical.

Understanding the social norms and the structure of relationships or networks, as well as the economic trends, cultural values, and political forces, are vital when evaluating (and predicting) the successful adoption of any new technology. These forces collectively impact how people receive, perceive, evaluate, and ultimately decide whether to adopt or abandon an innovation. The confluence of these environmental effects shapes people’s mindset, influencing their choices and behaviors – not only the end-users but also the early adopters and innovators.

Some of the questions that need to be addressed when assessing the viability of any new technology are:

  • Is there a genuine need for this innovation or technology?
  • How are people currently fulfilling this need?
  • Is the market ready for it (i.e., is there an infrastructure in place to support its implementation and usage)?
  • How frictionless will the adoption process be?
  • Do the users have the necessary skills to take advantage of this new technology?
  • Does it rely on a network of adopters to deliver its benefits?
  • What is the perceived value of the latest technology among users?


[End of part 7 of 8]

Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6