The article, “Diffusion of Innovations” (Rogers and Singhal), began with these words: “What is diffusion?” I would like to start instead with the question, “What is innovation?” I ask because I think many of us are a bit quick to confer such high status to mere evolutionary progress, to incremental advances, to mostly consumer products that, in fact, fall far short of being truly innovative.
Is the iPhone, for example, truly an innovation? Does it, or has it, in fact transformed the way we communicate? Who we are? Our understanding of telecommunications and Web use? (Hint: No, no and no.)
The hybrid corn seed was truly an innovation. What about Facebook? The bionic eye?
In communication, as the article pointed out, we are interested in diffusion as a “communication process, independent of the type of innovations that are diffused.” This is why, just for funsies, that we are the department of communication and not the department of communicationS, because it is a process.
Think through, then, what has to be true for some thing, some new device or method or process, to be innovative. Next, think about how that device or method or technological innovation has changed how we communicate, the process of communication, perhaps even who we are.
Next, as you think about where you are on the adoption curve, consider the article’s valuable point about adoption (or diffusion) as at least partly a social process, something we’ve really keyed on in Intro to Digital Communication. Think about how much social interaction, peer groups and influencers have impacted how and when you adopt a new way of doing something, especially online. In other words, how do your interpersonal networks influence what you buy, what you adopt, when to change how you do something? (These are rich questions given the fact that the Internet has become such a thoroughly social tool or enabler.)
Now the most difficult question and, therefore, the most important: So what? Are these innovations in the end progress? Are these new devices, methods and technologies taking us all to a better place, or merely to a different place? To prompt us: In the 1950s, it was wholeheartedly believed that technology would produce the three- or four-day workweek, that increases in productivity would yield vast amounts of found leisure time. We’re working harder — and longer — than ever.
(My apologies for the difficulties most had in commenting to last week’s post. I’ve checked around at WordPress.com and cannot find a systemic reason. Perhaps Berry’s IT quirks have struck again. It does appear that changing your posting name and/or email however slightly does the trick.)