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Op-ed - Written by on Sunday, September 14, 2008 22:39 - 17 Comments

Naumi Haque
Why our technology sucks: It’s our fault!

Over the summer my brother had a friend visiting from Japan. Erina – this petite, normally quiet and demure Asian had a good hearty laugh at the fact that our major Canadian electronics retailer fancies itself as the store of the future. Personally, I always find a visit to the electronics shop to be quite exhilarating. I enjoy perusing the new gadgets, hanging out in the speaker room, and fantasizing about the sweet 52-inch Sony flat screens. But then again, I’m male, I’m 30, and I’m a Canadian. To a Japanese native whose expectations are clearly far more demanding, our entire technology industry is a bit comical. The futuristic gadgets that we find ourselves drooling over are already two or three generations old in Japan. In fact the digital camera that Erina walked into the store with was the latest model… too bad she bought it in Japan five years ago. To her, our technology was “soooo 2003.”

I bring up this little anecdote because it is relevant to some research I’m contemplating about Asian business revolutionaries and, in particular, the mobile industry. The issue is that, despite our global business environment, the disparity between North American and Asian product innovation and consumer expectations of innovation is, honestly, quite shocking. The electronics industry in this continent is a great example of the “culture of legacy” that we North Americans complaisantly support.

Our diminished expectations extend to the technology we accept from service providers like cable and cell phone companies (anyone use on-demand cable lately – the interface is circa 1985), from our governments (still waiting on that electronic ballot, e-polling, and efficient online service delivery), and from our corporate work environments (still operating on the assumption that 3- to 5-year lifecycles for employee workstations are acceptable and that iPhones aren’t “enterprise technology”). We do not demand better technology, and so we do not get it. It’s simple supply-and-demand; Economics 101.

Three-year contracts for cell phones are standard – the assumption being that our current technology is ‘good enough’ for at least that long. Flat panel TV’s are “all the rage” right now, but if I were to poll my own group of friends, fewer than half of them have made the investment. In fact, we in Canada are, to a certain extent, proud of being luddites. We exalt our “retro” technologies and some even pine for the ‘good old days’ before the hum-drum of always-on BlackBerries, satellite TVs, laptops, and instant messaging.

When two of my colleagues decided to wait in line overnight to get the latest iPhone, the response was a mix of jealousy and incredulity – that anyone would want to pay a premium for the latest and greatest technology, and to demand it so early is still seen as somewhat geeky and eccentric.

The culture of legacy extends far beyond consumer electronics. It’s a deeply-routed cultural problem we as North Americans have. Our business assumptions are based on it. Take for example the Hype Cycle – now an industry standard technology lifecycle model. Nothing is more damaging to the psyche of the corporate technophile than Gartner’s Hype Cycle which makes it not only okay to be a technology laggard, but in certain circumstances, actually preferable. Gartner has made a business around mitigating the perceived risk of being on the leading edge of technology adoption.

But, it all starts at home. My TV is seven years old (and I still don’t have a PVR), my home computer is getting on four years old, the three-year contract on my cell phone is almost up but I probably won’t renew anytime soon, my CD player is a relic of the 90’s, and the newest electronic device I’ve purchased is an iPod. We perpetuate our own culture of legacy by refusing to update. We generally feel that, even if our technology is behind the rest of the world, it’s still good enough for now. In the end, whose fault is it that our technology in North America sucks? Clearly, it’s our own.


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Sep 15, 2008 14:06

This is very true, when I moved back from Japan it took me 3 months to accept that I would have to use a Canadian mobile phone. No electronic wallet, no tv on the phone, archaic texting… i could go on. nice article Naumi!

Sep 15, 2008 14:10

It’s interesting to me how we have grown accustomed to the sluggish pace of technological developments. Digital camera resolution is a perfect example.

Perhaps what we need to spur earlier adoption in this country is greater exposure to other countries like Japan and how advanced they are in comparison to us. That would likely cause a bit of clamoring amongst the public, hopefully persuading companies to import more “advanced” electronics.

Sep 15, 2008 20:05

I find it interesting that we complain at the pace of technological advancement, yet most of the gadgets referenced do nothing to enhance our standard of living.

In fact I’d argue that they lower it.

For instance why would I pay for the latest HD LCD tv when it’s going to quadruple my cable bill. Then with that fancy new screen I need to get a gaming device, enhance the streaming to all my connected gadgetry which are all clamoring for monthly payments.

It’s interesting that the easiest way to increase my cashflow is by eliminating my ‘need’ of these pesky material devices that pressure me to find yet an even better paying job. Heck it’s the best taxfree pay raise going.

It all feels like pointless cycle, kind of like chasing my own tail.

Sep 15, 2008 20:40

Hey Naumi,

Makes perfect sense…but I find myself defending our Luddite habits – not as anti-technologists, but as frugal spenders. The reason both of us have 4-year-old PCs is that we don’t want to part with the money to gain the incremental benefit.

Why is it that we as a culture prefer to minimize our expenditures rather than stay current with technology? Perhaps more interestingly, what about these specific Asian cultures (South Korean, Singapore, Japan) leads Asian consumers to choose differently?

Write on, friend!

Naumi Haque
Sep 15, 2008 21:56

Good points Vince and Graham – there’s certainly an opportunity cost related to buying technology. There’s a lot of things I could do with $1,000 instead of buying a flat panel LCD TV (like for example, renting a houseboat for a weekend with some friends).

I guess the point is, our culture simply doesn’t place the same value in the incremental value of technology that other cultures do. That, and in many cases the cost of our technology (i.e. the higher cost of mobile in NA versus other countries), forces us to make the trade-off.

Sep 21, 2008 7:38

Japanese tend to worry a lot about the neighbour having a bigger TV than they do. Westerners are more interested in individual cost/benefit considerations. My TV is old and small but good enough.

Wikinomics » Blog Archive » The smaller your home, the cooler your phone
Dec 15, 2008 18:50

[...] such as a population’s affluence, infrastructure availability, domestic cost of technology, and cultural tendencies all factor into adoption rates as well. Still, I think it’s a neat macro way to think about the [...]

Roger Crane
May 17, 2009 20:48

Share you thoughts and feelings regarding Canadian technology. Both federal and provincial governments as well as businesses are pre-Luddite. RC

Jul 8, 2009 1:53

I do not replace anyhting until it is broken. And, sometimes even when it’s broken I will duct tape it and use it until it almost disintegrates hahaha. I’d rather invest my money in something I would enjoy better like… gas in my car so I can go hit the surf at the beautiful beaches wherever I find myself in the world :)

David M
Sep 4, 2009 23:41

Technology sucks because it sucks you in to believing in it. It is not real. The outside environment is real. The air is real, the water, the wind the sunshine, not the digital bullshit gigabit crap that fails fails and fails and in the end does nothing but waste everyones’ precious time on the planet. Food is still food it is not digital. Flying is not digital. Driving is not digital. Just try to get a digital camera fixed. Film outlasts digital media forever. I am a photographer who makes a living digitally but used to make it analog. Good Guitar player use analog amps. This is why it was so easy to take down the twin towers. Technology gets in its own way and simple means prevail. Toilet paper is not digital, never will be. I fucking hate digital and technology. I have a old corvette all analog, threw away all the digital crap. Coffins are not digital. Only our images are digital and as such replace reality with a reasonable facsimile thereof. LSD is not digital.

Nov 27, 2009 0:58

Technology stinks. When a piece of technology ceases to stink, people stop calling it ‘technology’.

This is why complicated consumer devices that need constant care and feeding are called ‘technology’, but plain old telephones aren’t. Plain old telephones were once super-advanced and unreliable. Now they just work, and if they don’t work, then they’re broken. Not misconfigured… not incompatible… just broken.

This is why it’s often best to wait until people stop calling a thing ‘technology’ before adopting it.

Luckily, for some people (like me), computers are reaching this level. For what I use my computer for, a 6 year old one works as well as a brand new one. The only reason I got rid of my 6 year old computer last year was because my mother wanted it.

Mobile banking, innovation and culture « Dan Herman Research & Consulting
Jan 19, 2010 0:05

[...] financial services players. So what makes them want such services? This links back to Naumi’s recent post on why North American consumers seem to demand less than their East Asian bretheren. Perhaps [...]

Jan 30, 2010 1:35

I hate technology! Ok, maybe that’s a bit too strong…but we really are getting a bit out of control. The internet is amazing however, cell phones which can do everything except cook you dinner…who cares!!! I thought a phone was for making a phone call not for taking pictures of your ass and sending them to 20 of your “closest” friends. I guess I’m stuck in the wrong generation…I prefer hikes, poetry, conversations with a real human being and swimming in the ocean…anyone else??

Feb 2, 2010 13:36

I’m afraid I agree with you. I don’t have the interest to page through 500 million blogs. I don’t want 80 features on my phone, because I don’t want the bother of learning to use them. What can I say?

Apr 2, 2010 15:42

Technology does suck! all technology is good for, is to make man feel superior to nature. It creates shortcuts for things that don’t need shortcuts, in turn making whole societies lazy and unhealthy. As stated by others before, man is never happy with the technology that he creates, he is like a drug addict, he always wants, make that needs, more. The problem is, the more he creates, the more he inadvertently destroys his home the earth. I do not mean global warming, I mean a direct tearing down of land to make way for manufactering factories, and pollution that spills into the seas and effects the plants and animals around us. It used to be that we needed resources for our survival, now we rape the earth for those resources for our amusement! this is a prime example of what I call the evolution of necessity. For unfortunately you cannot take these technologies away from man because he has evolved into needing them. I just wish man could break his technological addiction and be truly entralled and awe-inspired by nature. Nature has a lot to offer, but with the blinders of superiorty and technological advancements on man will never see it.

Captain Reality
Apr 19, 2010 20:11

What a load of tripe.

Consumer electronics simply don’t matter; they do not improve quality or standard of life. In fact, they make it worse because people ‘cocoon’ themselves in their houses, have no social contact, and get fat. Neighbourhoods and businesses decline. The social fabric thins.

I’d rather focus on having technology where it matters; in hospitals, in our transport systems. And not any old technology either. Constantly upgrading systems means constant churn, effort, and disruption. The approach to technology upgrades needs to be careful and considered if the churn is not to overwhelm the benefit.

Which leads me to leisure time and technology. If all this technology is so ‘woot!’, then why is leisure time decreasing? It’s because most technology is inefficiently applied, or is applied to doing things that probably shouldn’t be done anyway (most of the financial services industry comes to mind).

All in all, technology stinks. Turn off the TV, delete your Facebook account, turn off the computer, and go and do something that doesn’t involve staring at a screen. Living through a screen is not living at all.

chuck holmes
Oct 14, 2010 22:14

actually this moron is quite WRONG. the Quality of the Japanese electronics as compared to the electronics from say an American NAME BRAND wow.. JUNK JUNK JUNK… they can’t even translate the damn books into proper english.. we invent the electronics here in the US and we send them specs on how to build it for cheaper. then they rip off the designs and make their own shoddy imitations and sell them for junk prices and junk quality.

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