Communicating the pace of technological change

Returning to my theme of that murky world I inhabit a lot of the time between the uber-geeks and the digitally excluded, I want to focus in how people view the pace of technological change.

Our Digital Planet in Glasgow

A couple of things have happened recently that have given me cause to think about this theme. One was a discussion with someone who would not accept that his 8 year-old computer was in any way obsolete. He complained about it being slow, but blamed most of the problems on his poor internet connection. This, indeed, was an issue, but the computer itself compounded the problem by being painfully slow. He insisted that he machine was “state of the art” when he bought it. Which may have been true, in 2005.

Then there was the group being consulted with over improvements to their very poor broadband service in a rural area. This was one of the more difficult consultations I have done on this subject, largely because it was in an area where public money was spent on installing a wireless network solution a number of years ago. That solution has never really worked as it should, has failed to find sufficient customers, and it now offers only marginal improvements over fixed line connections in the area, although it does provide connectivity to a few people who can’t get any kind of service at all over their fixed line. But, of course, when the wireless network was installed, all sorts of promises were made about how it would transform the lives of the people connecting to it. Most of these have not been fulfilled. But it has shaped residents’s views about people coming into their area and making promises about connectivity and makes it difficult to get through to them that technology has moved on and better solutions are available.


These were just two incidents among many, but the issue of person being convinced his 8 year-old computer is still state-of-the-art, and the community’s dissatisfaction with its years-old wireless network, crystallised some thoughts for me. I spend a lot of time working with people who have never used new technologies in a consistent manner in their lives. Their frames of reference are with other things that are important to them. And, in most other spheres of life, things don’t change as rapidly as they do in the worlds of computing and the internet. Thus, the man with the 8 year-old computer had a car that was more than 8 years old, and was still perfectly serviceable. The community with the obsolete wireless network lived in centuries-old stone-built houses that will provide homes for more centuries into the future. Computers and internet connections can be expensive, and, for many people, having made that outlay, they expect it to work for them for a very long time. The fact that it doesn’t is another factor in turning people off from using new technologies, it can be confusing to them, and it can prevent them from becoming familiar with new applications and more efficient ways of doing things.

So, as part of our digital inclusion efforts, we need to work harder to communicate the pace of technological change to people. And, and this may seem counter-intuitive, but we need to make this change less scary to people. And we need to ameliorate the pace of change by finding new ways of people extending the life of their old technology.  These are key digital inclusion challenges.

Leeds Snowcial Media Surgery

12 thoughts on “Communicating the pace of technological change

  1. Guess there’s also the issue of costs in replacing equipment like computers – AND the hassles involved. I use my laptop a LOT and it is definitely not a minor part of my life, but I think my current computer fixer guy finds me a tad annoying; I won’t change my current (second-hand) IBM Thinkpad laptop – which is quite possibly around 2005 vintage. It is a bit slow, but firstly I like it – it has features I don’t think I can get any more (e.g. nice miniature mouse ball in the middle of the key board which I love) secondly money is a consideration and thirdly I know all too well the pain in the neck hassle of switching laptops. I have done it several times. I know all about switching over. I can use my Mozy system or plug the old hard drive into the new computer for example but there’s always all the other bits and pieces and gizmos which to be set up again manually, like Mozy, Adobe, Picasa, Microsoft Security, Thunderbird, printer, scanner … aaarghh!! So I do have quite a lot of sympathy with your guy. If someone could help him find a machine that is newer but similar and help him transfer all his gear … or alternatively update his old one with more memory??

  2. As usual your posts always break through and start me off on one…
    I can sympathise with both your examples. We as a community built a wifi network in 2004, and it was brilliant. It gave us a connection in an area without any landline broadband and brought us into the digital age. We then had a bright spark who invented Youtube, and Iplayer, and all of a sudden our feed wasn’t sufficient, and we had not got access to a better feed that was affordable, leased lines cost far too much and weren’t available anyway without massive ‘fixed costs’ from the incumbent monopoly. We struggled along for years and have finally decided to do the job once, and do it right with fibre. There is a serious case for doing this, as it means that in our lifetimes there is no need for an upgrade, apart from switching the lights. The infrastructure is futureproof for many decades, unlike satellite, wifi or ‘infinity’ through a phone line.

    The second case, the person with the old pc, I went to install a chap the other day who insisted he had wifi on his computer, but there was no wifi adaptor in it, but because the router had antenna he was convinced his computer could pick it up. Most users do think their equipment will last for years, and it sure will, as long as they don’t want to upgrade the software. My old laptop had a 20 meg hard disk and 64K memory and ran all the OS and software needed to run a company. My new laptop has 500 gigabyte hard disk and 4 gig of ram. Thousands of times bigger and more powerful, but it has to be because the software nowadays demands it.

    The same with the internet. In the old days it was rare to see a photograph on a web page. The odd icon or graphic, but no photos, and we used to turn them off in the browsers anyway to make pages load faster. The old computers coped fine, it was the dial up which was the limiting factor. Since broadband came along more content is online. Now with video, photos, music and interaction we need much faster connections. This is going to get worse, as TV is coming through the internet now, along with telepresence and we have to move with the times if we want to take advantage of this brave new world.

    If we are content to use older stuff and slower connections then that is fine too, but how to show people the difference without boring the pants off them is another matter. I think the main driver is peers, one person does something, shows another how to do it and they are hooked. Also with services in the cloud it isn’t always necessary to upgrade pcs quite as often, as if you have a fast connection the speed of the computer isn’t the bottleneck. The bottleneck is often caused by using a cheap ISP and expecting miracles down a victorian phone line. I think my old laptop would work quite happily if it had an ethernet port, but there wasn’t ethernet in those days… I no longer need to install loads of new programmes or updates, I can just use the programmes freely available online, googledocs for example saves buying microsoft office…

  3. John,

    Thought provoking blog.

    I’ve come across the connection issue here in the urban space, when I’ve been talking about ‘upgrading’ the connection in my locality, I’ve been greeted with ‘well why should I pay more, my connection is fine for what I do.’ I’d normally be content to leave them in their slow backwater but given the supply of fast broadband to me depends upon the economic model – it kinda frustrates me!

    I think the problem with the hardware issue is one of changing mindsets (both consumer and manufacturer). We’ve had a pc since ’92 and we’ve long had the mindset of upgrading on a regular basis (usually get 2-3 yrs out of a machine) and also knowing that the computer you’re buying is obsolete before its even out of the shop door. But we’re lucky to be able to afford to do that! (I believe Currys actually has a scheme now where you pay a certain amount / month and are guaranteed an upgrade in 18 months / 2 years – maybe a social enterprise could provide a service like that?)

    The basic type of thing I do with my machine haven’t changed over the years – word processing, chatting online, storing photographs , email, playing Second Life but the software requirements have. I’m not sure whether this is a case of because the programs have got more complex so hardware has to be improved to allow the software to work or because the hardware has been developed (for no reason other than it has) so software has got more complex because it can now be that much more memory / processor hungry. I think probably all the computers I have had – certainly since the early 2000’s – have all had much more computing power than NASA used to go to the Moon.

    I also like the growing number of Cloud software providers – even Microsoft have got into it with Office 365. And have a number of applications d/loaded from the Chrome Webstore.

    There is also the problem of OS obsolescence particularly of Windows systems. There is a huge crunch coming up with operating systems as extended support for XP ends next year and support for Vista and 7 is going to be limited. There are going to be people who are going to have to be helped to upgrade / get newer OS (including a desktop in our house!).

    In summary, I believe the barriers are: cost, knowledge, increasing complexity (hardware / software), confidence (people will stick with what they know and not willing to step out of comfort zones).

      • Durham County Council have got a scheme for cheap refurbished computers too – not too well publicized and I believe (although I may be corrected on this) you have to be in receipt of benefits to qualify for it. Although on checking the Council website – can’t find any reference to it!

        I’ve bookmarked that link – I have an interesting meeting coming up on Wednesday with the local housing association.

        And there needs to be agood knowledge base of ‘starter’ apps too.

  4. Recently started to read your blog and much enjoying it. Realised some time ago that there was going to be major problems with a generation who have been able to spend enough to keep up wit IT development but who on retirement to a limit pension would find major problems.

    Hopefully as PCs are replaced for the general use by tablets (one forecast is that the PC market is likely to collapse as more and more find they only need a tablet) this may prove to be less of a problem particularly without the crazy hassle of Microsoft’s recurrent and expensive nightmares upgrades, while Apps get constant and frequent automatic upgrades. Daughter just spent a lot to upgrade to Windows 8 only to find she then had to spend a lot more to buy Windows 7 since what she had spent so much on was not a full Windows 8 but just an upgrade package not a full operating system. And quite what the NHS is going to do when Microsoft stops supporting Windows XP. I can see no way that the NHS will afford the cost and training efforts required especially anyone good in IT quite quickly realises the mess NHS-IT is in and gets out asap.Thank goodness I use an Apple Mac with Office for the Mac. I still have a PC but rarely use it.

    Your followers may be interested in a paper I have just published in the British Journal of Healthcare Computing entitled “Paper fights back; over 50 neglected advantages of paper”
    You may also find my website of interest – basically working towards all homebound people having, like all expectant mothers, a unified paper record that stays with them wherever they go, the only group in Britain who have a fully inter operative master copy of their medical record, readable, correctable and possible to add to anywhere by anyone of any discipline regardless of whether the internet is or is not reliably accessible

  5. John, as a non-uber geek, but someone who I guess has some basic understanding the previous bad experiences I have had when upgrading have been scarring. I recently upgraded and it was ok but v stressful. I don’t always understand how to do certain things as I’m a very competent user but less competent IT geek. In contrast, when the utilities started to get feedback from customers that it was hard to switch they did something about it. Banks improved the ease of moving from one bank to another. Applications and installations etc are getting better but there is more the industry could do to help users ‘switch’ or upgrade. I’m sure that would help more people!

    • Thanks Anne

      I think it’s one of the reasons why I have hope that the advent of the tablet will change a lot of this, as they seem to be a lot more intuitive to use for many less technically-minded people, and the upgrade paths are easier. Although, it does seem to me that there are issues with all the different versions of Android out there, some of which are not compatible with the latest apps.

  6. I have thought about getting a tablet, but I am not really tempted. Unless they come way down in price I don’t think the expense would justify it because (1) For a lot of things I do I want a decent sized screen, but more importantly (2) I am a touch typist, so I also want a decent sized keyboard. Sorry, but a lot of my generation, especially women, actually type properly using all our fingers, without needing to look, and we type fast. In this country I suspect this is a declining skill. Sorry if I sound like a dinosaur, but it does make life much easier.. That’s partly why we have taken so quickly to the digital age. and why some of us pop up all over the place with lengthy comments – it doesn’t take long. (3) I just don’t need to use my on-line facilities all the time when I am not at home, but when I do I am fine with taking my laptop, with its proper keyboard – I sometimes do joke about it being surgically attached. To use a tablet though would be a misery because it would permanently slow me down and quite literally cramp my style – oh, and at present I am running about half a dozen blogs and websites, have a Twitter Account I use a lot, add videos to YouTube and contribute to lots of other websites. – can’t say that dreadful 2005 laptop is exactly holding me back. Perhaps we need to be careful that we don’t start nagging people in a ‘one size fits all’ approach and we need to consider digital technology users as individuals?

    • Julia, it’s interesting that you are still managing with a 2005 laptop. I have one from 2006 that is still kicking around but I can’t use it as it is painfully slow.

      And I know what you mean about touch-typing (which I don’t do). Although there are some half decent Android tablets around now for about £150 if you change your mind

      • £150.00 – nope. Would have to be no more than about £30.00 to justify the occasional use it would get – otherwise couldn’t cope with the painful slowness of such a grotty little keyboard, compared with the lovely speed I get from this one.

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