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  • Writer's pictureMike Cameron

Technology May Be Overrated

You don't have to wait very long for the next article to come along and tell us about the disruptive impact of the latest technologies.

The gist of these articles is that are right on the cusp of some new technology making everything better, faster, cheaper, and generally more wonderful.

Now, I make my living with technology so I'm not going to bash it. Technology is wonderful...I love technology. I'm an engineer by training--if something runs on electricity and has buttons, I want one! But technology by itself never changed anything.

What's my reason for such blasphemy? Let me illustrate with a short story. Suppose you travel deep into the Amazon until you find one of those tribes that has somehow managed to avoid the rest of the world. And there, on the shores of a small lake, sits a person using a rock to smash open some freshwater clams. To this person, that rock represents technology--it's a tool. Now you hand this person your iPad. You have just introduced a potentially disruptive technology to this primitive culture. Well, probably not. It's more likely that the primitive person will use your marvel of technology to smash open a couple of clams before deciding the rock is a better tool.

Okay, that's a pretty contrived example and what's the point? The point is that technologies don't change anything unless you also change your methods of doing the work. Jamming a new technology into an old method seldom leads to making anything generally more wonderful.

When confronted with a new technology, people have exactly three choices: 1) ignore it, 2) force the new technology into existing methods of working, or 3) letting technology lead them to new methods for doing things,

Luddites choose the first option. Smash the machines and let people do the work. (Modern Luddites are the folks who are still clinging to their flip phones.) And many early cloud adopters fell into the second category--they didn't rethink the way they interact with or use data and kept their current workflows and methods. For those folks, the cloud was different but not very different, and certainly not disruptive. The flexibility of the cloud allowed users to force it to emulate the systems they already had. Zero disruption. And then there were cloud adopters who significantly re-thought their methods. They completely changed the way they thought about storing and interacting with data--and in the process created new tools and disciplines.

My whole point is that technology doesn't disrupt anything. The way we interact with technology creates the disruption. But only for those who are willing to modify their existing methods.



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