Tech. Becomes Personal – Changes In Consumer Adoption

Technology is no longer the benign desktop computer in our basements. Technology is now integrated in to all parts of our lives and many tech items double as status symbols and fashion accessories. The distinct style and customizable features of some tech products allow the consumer to express him or herself in unique and interesting ways. This change in technology also means a change in consumer adoption.

In Gillian Smith’s intro to Designing Interactions she talks briefly about David Liddle’s view on technology adoption. I looked at this model, and Everett Roger’s diffusion of innovation model, to analyze how these models fit current technology adoption practices of consumer products.

David Liddle’s Technology Adoption Model:

  1. Enthusiast – excited for technology and use technology for technologies sake
  2. Professional – people who use technology are not the ones who buy it
  3. Consumer – less interested in technology itself, and more interested in what it can do for them

Everett Roger’s Diffusion of Innovation Model:

  1. Innovators – venturesome, educated, multiple info sources, greater propensity to take risk
  2. Early adopters – social leaders, popular, educated
  3. Early majority – deliberate, many informal social contacts
  4. Late majority – skeptical, traditional, lower socio-economic status
  5. Laggards – neighbors and friends are main info sources, fear of debt

One thing that both models have in common is early adopters.  The two models define them differently, but in both cases these are the first people to buy your product (often at a high price point).

Technology products are traditionally nerdy, esoteric, and unstylish. They were rarely used to express the unique style and tastes of the consumer. An early adaptor would have to be an enthusiast (or interested in this type of new technology) and they probably would also have to be educated, venturesome, and informed. This means the person would essentially have to be a very early adopter by both Liddle’s & Roger’s standards.

As technology products become more integrated in to our everyday lives and they become forms of self expression and style, this adoption begins to change. Early adopters no longer have to be an early adopter by both Liddle’s & Roger’s standards. Sure, they still probably have to be educated, venturesome, and informed, but the interest in technology for technologies sake is no longer necessary.  One example would be the iPhone.  Teenage girls buy iPhones, not because they are interested in the revolutionary UI or any of the technology itself, but because it’s a status symbol that says something about who they are.
This means that the demographics of early adaptors is changing and new technologies that double as status symbols, fashion accessories, or other forms of self-expression have much larger number of early adopters.


  1. Tyler Pace

    I should have copyrighted my comment in class! 🙂

  2. marty

    To Tyler: for copyright protection, you’d need to “fix” your commments first, generally on media of some sort. 😉

  3. marty

    Great observations, David.

    As I did in class, I’d like to add an initial node to both models: the “inventors” and/or “hobbyists”. These are the folks who literally create the new technologies. Thety resemble the first tiers in both hierarchies outlined in David’s excellent post, but have the added distinction of having to make the objects of their techno-lust, generally defining them along the way.

    The reason I harp so much on this point is that today, there is an interesting soprt of re-inventing of the inventor in the form of the “hack”. These are folks who take existing technologies, often fairly new, and add new, unanticiapted or even disallowed capabilities to them. For instance: reverse engineering AppleTV and XBox units to boot to a desktop, an iPhone to run thrid party applications or a PSP to play videos (before Sony supported it).

    These folks are an interesting synthesis because they are using existing technologies as platforms and are doing so to invent totally new applications of the rtechnology.

  4. Tyler Pace

    I almost imagine the technological adoption model as a circle. The traditional bell curve diagram no longer represents the nature of the prosumer.

    Prosumers are something between a hobbyist and a consumer. They only produce as soon as things become easy and widespread enough for the consumer but once they start producing they become inventors and hobbyists who then push the platform forward outward again.

    We really need a spiral or circle to represent the current adoption trends.

    Perhaps there are multiple diffusion curves occurring at the same time. One for content and one for the medium? This might allow us to chart the growth of YouTube.

    Online video and flash on one spectrum and level of prosumer engagement on the other?

  5. thismarty

    Great observation, Tyler. I never thught of it that way before, but I think you nailed it.

  6. chmbrigg

    Great thinking all. “Hackers” or “Prosumers” are (and actually have been around for a long time) a force to be reckoned with. For some interesting insights into this behavior, check out Eric Von Hippel’s work on what he calls “Lead User Innovation,” or his book “Democratization of Innovation.” (downloadable for free, by the way) In it he points out that much of the innovation in many industries comes from the folks whom Marty has called “Hackers” and Tyler “Prosumers.”

    In the book, for example, he quotes a study by Luthje, who found that a significant number of surgeons in Germany hacked existing equipment to suit their needs, and %48 of these “doctor hacker”s’ innovations were later manufactured. He also notes famously that the whole concept of the Mountain Bike was not designed within a company, but instead by what one might call bike “hackers.”

  7. jimmypierce

    Great post. I wasn’t familiar with Everett’s diffusion model — thanks for sharing it. Danny Hillis said “technology is anything that doesn’t work yet.” Sometimes i find myself using technology to describe hardware, or other “raw materials” of design, used to compose more meaningful artifacts. However, I think it’s at times useful to have a more general notion of technology. Written language, pen and paper were once a new technology. For a long time, it remained only in the hands of the educated elite. It has evolved for so long that we now don’t even recognize it as technology. If you don’t write with paper and pen there’s something wrong with you. The technology has roughly followed Roger’s and Liddle’s models. In some ways, technology almost seems to be defined by such evolutions…it diffuses as we figure out what we want and can do with it, and how to make it “work”.

    This is a great observation:

    “This means that the demographics of early adaptors is changing and new technologies that double as status symbols, fashion accessories, or other forms of self-expression have much larger number of early adopters.”

    Digital technologies do somehow seem to lower the barriers to entry, hence there are more early adopters. For instance, pretty much anyone can learn to use blogging software. You can also easily learn some HTML using it (e.g. by looking at the code view). With these simple tools, you can do some very expressive, creative things. You can also find yourself learning more advanced stuff (e.g. photoediting, css, javascript,…). It seems that many people start using digital technology for it’s expressive powers, but later find themselves enjoying the challenges of learning and building the expressive technology itself. With digital technology, you can choose to easily switch between different levels of use. The enthusiast-consumer distinction is now a broad spectrum. To relate back to Marty’s observation, with digital technology it’s easier to work your way from consumer to hobbyist, or even a prosumer or hacker. Or perhaps, it is better understood as a cyclical model as Tyler suggests. In what ways does digital technology diffuse more rapidly? Why? And is this related hobbyist and prosumer trends?

  8. David Locke

    The queston isn’t whether technology gets adopted by all, it’s more a matter of what the behavior drivers are for the population. So, translating your question to that, technology no longer risk driven.

    The next issue is that you are lumping sustaining technology with disruptive technology. Adopting sustaining technology never involves early adopters. It’s a waste of their time. Sustaining is what you do after your category is created.

    You’ve done what the dot busters did and lumped a whole lot of different things together. They are still different today. And, they were different before and after the bust.

    Yes, in consumer marketing an early adopter is really a late market person just because it is the consumer market. Rodgers is still correct. But, we in the U.S. probably have less risk tolerance than ever, and at the same time we are consuming more than ever.

    BTW, there are no demographics for early adopters, not early adopter according to Rogers.


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