Digital Scaredy Cats

Feb 07, 2013


Early adopters. We all like to pretend we're one of them. People love to be the first to discover something new: a new band, the latest cool app, the hottest social networking site. In the end though, not everyone can be on the edge of innovation.

I always considered myself part of the early adopters group. I'm a "Digital Native" after all, shouldn't I, and my peers, be spearheading the search for the next big thing? I'm not so sure anymore...

There are a couple reasons why I've become doubtful. First, a few weeks ago, I read an article by Josh Miller called "What the Tech World Looks Like to a Teen." Based on the title alone, you'd think even a quick mention of that article has no place in this column, but Miller makes some very interesting points. He admitted that whenever he wants to know what is going to be the next big thing in technology, he asks his 15 year-old sister. Miller writes, "A few months ago, my fifteen-year-old sister told me that Snapchat was going to be the next Instagram. Many months before that she told me that Instagram was being used by her peers as much as Facebook. Both times I snickered." Turns out, his fifteen-year old sister was right.

Since reading Miller's analysis of the tech world, I've asked a few friends if they use Snapchat. Their responses were mostly the same: "Never heard of it. Is it like Facebook?" After a few conversations all leading to the same result, it hit me: I know so many "Digital Natives" that would rather stick with what they know than try something different, myself included.

For example, recently, I decided to get a new smartphone. There wasn't anything particularly wrong with my old phone, except that it was 2-years-old, which in tech years would make it eligible for social security. Verizon doesn't even make cases for my phone anymore. It was clearly time for an upgrade, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Within mere seconds of deciding to get a new phone, I was faced with the conundrum many smartphone buyers who have come before me have bravely faced: Android or Apple.

It was horrifying.

You should know that for the past 2+ years, I've owned an Android phone. It always treated me well, so the prospect of giving up a familiar operating system for the mysterious other (Apple) had my stomach in knots. I know some of you might scoff and say there is no contest: Apple wins hands down, and you might be right, but when I was standing in the Verizon store, looking from the iPhone 5 to the Droid DNA, logic didn't mean anything to me. The iPhone was new, different, strange. I bought the Android device. Twenty-four hours later, filled with regret, I went back to the store and got the iPhone 5.

Why? I realized I'd made my decision based on my fear of the unknown. I think this is the way most people operate, particularly older tech users. We don't like change. We want familiarity. We want easy, comfortable, non-threatening. It takes a lot for us to adopt new habits...even Digital Natives.

Case in point: Facebook's Timeline. When Facebook first introduced Timeline, it seemed like everyone I knew was waging a never-ending battle with the social network to keep their old profile. After a few months, though, most of these silent warriors realized they pretty much had no choice in the matter. Facebook changed their profile for them, and they hated it. And when I say hate, I mean really hate -- so much so, a few of my friends disappeared from Facebook all together.

Granted I'm using a small example in an attempt to prove a larger hypothesis, but this isn't the first time I've heard from my peers that the latest technology, especially in terms of social media, isn't worth it. When Google+ first came out in mid 2011, it was met with limited enthusiasm. A few of my good friends tried it, for one reason or another decided they didn't like it, and stopped using it. But just a few days ago, I read that Google + is now the second biggest social media site behind Facebook. What?

In December 2011, I wrote an article for EContent naming five of the next big things in social content, one of which Theresa Cramer suggested was Pinterest. At the time, I'd never heard of it. And when I went to check it out, I needed an invitation to even look at the site. Within a few weeks, poof, it seemed like every single person I knew was following me on Pinterest. Now "pinning" is a common verb used in normal conversation.

So why are some of us so resistant to trying new technologies?

For me, it's usability. For some reason, in my mind, nothing could possibly be better for me than the device, social network, hardware, etc., I am already using. Without even trying it out, I am convinced that the new technology will fail me. I was convinced Facebook's Timeline was going to be a bust. Pinterest seemed like just a passing fad. And Google+ was barely even on my radar.

From what some of my peers tell me, in order to fully adopt a new technology, no matter what it is, they have to be fully convinced it will better their experience. Of course, teenagers use these technologies for reasons people in their twenties and thirties can't imagine. Age is a factor. For many young professionals who don't have time to text and send pictures all day long, it doesn't matter if the latest social media site or tech gadget looks cool, it has to do something worthwhile. Maybe that's why I'm so hesitant to try new technologies. Sometimes they just make things more complicated.

I know I should be more open to trying new things, but the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem: I am a Digital Native, and I'm a technology scaredy cat.