Around the time cellphones began to become available a story began to circulate.
Early on a Saturday morning in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania an Amish horse-drawn buggy and a Mercedes were in an accident. Both vehicles were too damaged to move and a passenger was injured. Waiting for help to drive by in this rural area might take too long. but fortunately one of the Amish had a cellphone.
The story is apocryphal, but the Amish are often called techno-selectives. The Amish and a few other groups like the Hutterites are conservative Christians known for their resistance to much of modern culture. Old Order Amish reject reject electricity from a public power grid, radio, tv, cars, and contemporary fashion. They operate as collectives and, given the realities of land and supply prices, have become good at business as a survival skill. Some collectives are more progressive than others and have moved into businesses not focused on community support and agriculture adapting modern tools along the way.
Generally the view is technology is usually neutral, but you shouldn't have it if it doesn't promote fellowship. Harold Rheingold noted: For them, it is not just how you use the technology, it is what kind of person you become when you use it.1 Church leaders evaluate technologies rejecting them outright, allowing them with specific restrictions or allow them unconditionally. Rollerblades, boats and barbecues are fine as they bring families and community together while cars, radios and tvs are seen as keeping people apart or as counterproductive distractions. Cellphones may be used in a business, but not within a home. A computer might be part of a dairy business, but it might be in a barn and run by batteries that are recharged with portable generators. The rule making is fascinating as the concept of contemplating how a technology will impact your life is foreign to most of us.
Cellphones not withstanding, the decision to adopt a technology conditionally or unconditionally usually comes when it very mature and most of its new users are technology laggards - the late adopters. A technologies market share over time often has a characteristic S shape.2 The point a technology begins to take off, where it reaches something like a halfway point or a bit beyond, how quickly it grows and its saturation point are fascinating questions for business. Horace Dediu actively asks these questions on his excellent Asymco blog.
Technologies tend to saturate well below the 100% adoption level and although it is a very useful model, the curve isn't quantitatively predictive. I find it very useful to look at the outliers. Why do a very few technologies to very well as well and why many never seem to live up to original expectations" The questions the Amish elders ask form a useful framework. As I get older I'm asking these questions of the things I buy and getting rid of items that fail to serve me well, but this questioning is only in the last decade and is specific to my tastes. To understand it more generally a variety of models can be useful.
Moving away from thinking about people as simple consumers and users (or non consumers or users) of services and devices, you can think of them as networks that are embedded in larger networks. Relationships between people, services, institutions, culture, the law, etc. that are mediated by technologies and how these relate to non-technical relationships. The approach is too broad to consider every possible connectino. Rather the trick is to work out the dominate factors for the problem you're studying.3 It is usually qualitative framework, but you can use the results build semi-quantitative models.
Apple is an interesting example for consideration. Getting deep into detail is beyond the scope of the blog, but this framework shifts it from being a maker of products that may be vulnerable to commodification to a complex web that involved personal style, how others in the social and institutional groups you interact view you, ecosystems of services involving Apple and others, and so on. The iPhone has become central to many users and is a useful lens to flesh out connections. By weighting the network connections you simply the web and begin to look for connected relationships. Links between the nodes can be examined for stickiness and you can imagine how they may evolve over time. Some actions of the company, like focusing on personal privacy, are of particular interest and may give insight into future direction.
Failure can be equally interesting. An example I leave to you is to think about VW and the human centered networks of American vs European diesel buyers...
1 Harold's fascinating January 1999 piece in Wired: Look who’s talking
2 The curve is a sigmoid function of the form f(x) = 1/(1 + e-x). . Note the denominator is huge for large -x and approaches 1 for large x. A more general form is f(x) = C/(1 + e-k(x -x0)), where C is the maximum value of the curve at saturation - eg the total population, k is related to how steep the curve is, and x0 is the 50% point of the curve.
This general form is very common in many disciplines - if you've taken a course in differential equations it is just the solution for f' = f(1-f).
3 This is the fun of the framework. It is very similar to the approach used in physics.
I'm a huge sweet potato fan and love to roast them. It is great for warming the house as the weather chills. The measurements are best guesses here. I started out with equally sized seasonings and adjusted later.
Baked Sweet Potatoes
° 4 medium sweet potatoes
° 1 standard can (15oz) chickpeas drained
° 1/2 tbl olive oil
° 1/2 tsp cinnamon, coriander, cumin and paprika
° 1/2 tsp coriander
° 1/2 tsp cumin
° 1/2 tsp paprika (smoked would be good!)
° sea salt
° 1/4 cup hummus (tahini would also be good)
° juice of 1/2 lemon
° 1 tsp dried dill
° 3 garlic cloves minced
° water to thin
° diced cherry tomatoes
° chopped parsley
° whatever seems interesting... lemon juice, chili sauce...
° preheat oven to 400°F
° cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise
° toss the chickpeas with olive oil and place on a baking sheet (I line the sheet with aluminum foil)
° rub the sweet potatoes with olive oil and place face down the the baking sheet
° roast for about 25 to 30 minutes until the chickpeas are golden brown
° while roasting is going on make the sauce by whisking all of the ingredients in a bowl with a bit of water to make it thin enough to pour. Adjust the seasonings.
° toss the toppings if you're using them
° when ready serve the sweet potatoes flat side up, smoosh down the insides a big and top with chickpeas, sauce and add the garish.