July 25, 2007
It's Not About the Technology; It's How You Use It

I've written a series of posts this morning on issues like the slow rate of technological change, realities of the digital divide, and the industry's inability to work together in finding new metrics efficiently.

Here's another concept underlying all of this and that bears repeating; it's not about the technology, stupid. As these posts throughout the morning indicate, we here at C3 do not consider ourselves technological determinists, even when we look at a lot of neat gadgets. Quite the opposite, we are interested in the social and cultural meaning attached to these new technologies. We are much less interested in what's possible than in how people choose to use technologies, the preconditions in their lives that make particular groups adapt to a technology, etc.

Along those lines comes news from The Carmel Group that DVR penetration in this country is expected to surpass 50 percent by 2010. What interests me here is not the DVR as some new killer application that is transforming the television industry but rather how consumers have adapted to the DVR and how the industry sees it differently. The comments I mentioned from Les Moonves from earlier today regarding Jericho fandom demonstrates a potential disconnect between what the industry thinks about the DVR and what the user thinks. I don't think about my DVR that often as a DVR--it is an extension of television viewing for me. What I used to timeshift with a VHS tape I can now do more smoothly, but I don't think about how revolutionary and cool I am every time I log onto Comcast to see my shows for the day. The DVR is television, not some separate technology.

See this Reuters piece about a study from our corporate partner MTV Networks International which emphasize just these points. We didn't have anything to do with the survey, but the points sound quite like things we've said here at the consortium time and time again.

Most people do not self-identify as technologists or early adapters. They use technologies because they enjoy them. Kids don't talk about social networks much; they use them. MySpace is a tool. The community is not the company's social networking platform; it is an organic thing all its own.

And society matters. Technology is used in much different ways and with varying levels of popularity across the world, due to infrastructure, socioeconomic factors, and related issues to be sure, but also because people's communication and lifestyle needs are not the same. For anyone who thinks that technologies, or globalized culture, will be some homogenizing force, think again.

For instance, see my post from back in June about how social networks has changed my life. I'm interested personally not in the technology itself but just in what it means for my everyday life. For many people, this means connecting to where I'm from and local community as much as it means branching out and finding new people. In the process of transcending the local, technologies are just as fixed in locality as ever and are, in many cases, helping people become more connected to the local, not less.