Northern Colorado Business Report
“A consumer’s guide to adoption of technology, part 4”
By Kai Staats
30 June 2011

This is the fourth and final entry in a guide to the adoption of technology into one’s personal life. This is not the typical guide that offers a comparison of the speed of wifi networks or the quality of LCD screens. Rather, this is a guide for you, a window into your own consumer behavior when considering the purchase and addition of new technology into your daily life for leisure or for work.

In the previous column we explored questions four, five and six of ten questions concerning the adoption of technology: Does it help me to better understand or improve myself? Does it help me to better understand or to help others? Does it improve my communication with others?

Since beginning this series on “A Consumer’s Guide to Technology” in April, my questioning my own consumer behavior has been further shaped by my travels and encounters which gave me opportunity to be unplugged while further connected through face-to-face conversations and the sharing of stories. During these times I was more at ease as I my mind stopped juggling the potential of a phone call, text message, or email. Instead, I was present with whomever was the focus of my attention.

I am now sitting on the living room floor of my family’s farm in rural Iowa where there is neither cell phone reception nor Internet access. Echoes of five generations of stories told here reverberate throughout the house, perfect timing to address the final four of the ten questions:

7. How did I perform this function prior to owning this device/gadget?
8. Does it improve upon a former means of operation?
9. What is the worst thing that would happen if I do not make this purchase?
10. If I wait three weeks, will I still have a need or desire to make this purchase?

My grandfather, Raymond Kruse, was a farmer, inventor, and environmental activist in this heartland community. He was an avid reader, staying current with trends in scientific research, discoveries, and consumer products. As is the case with many who lived through the Great Depression, my grandfather was conservative with his money, careful to research and purchase only the highest quality products, his intent to maintain each for use as long as possible.

I am fortunate to be the recipient of his legacy, inheriting a means of moving through the world in which material objects are not in and of themselves a goal, rather a gift to our already abundant life not to be taken for granted. Therefore when I ask myself How did I perform this function without this device? I see my grandfather’s face and hear his voice, “Kai-boy, don’t you already have one of those? Seems like the one you got is working just fine.”

Before I could answer, “Yes, but this one is faster, and has more …” I knew he had me beat. As a child, it was challenging to have my desire for instant gratification curbed, but as I grew to recognize his wisdom I learned to ask myself, Does it improve upon a former means of doing so? What is the worst thing that would happen if I don’t purchase it?

As the ultimate litmus test, I ask myself what my parents routinely asked me when I desperately pleaded that they buy the latest LEGO set, “If I wait three weeks, will I still have a need or desire to purchase it?” Often the answer to the last question satisfies the prior three in this series, my appetite for the latest, greatest technical device temporarily, if not permanently quelled.

You may ask, “Why does any of this matter?” While the full answer would likely demand a venture into the deeply ingrained psychology of consumption, I offer in response a well executed short film available on YouTube called “The Story of Electronics” which touches upon much of what I have called to attention, and expands the conversation to include the environmental impact of poor design.

One only needs to read the news to know that technology is rapidly changing the world. But the focus of this series has been on the adoption of technology into one’s personal life, I will summarize this four-part series as I began, with a quote from Langdon Miller, “The Whale and the Reactor,” 1986, “Through technological creation and many other ways as well, we make a world for each other to live in, much more than we have acknowledged in the past, we must admit our responsibility for what we are making.”

Responsibility begins with designers and ends with us, the consumers, a responsibility to the world around us, yes, but also to ourselves. It is my hope that ten questions I have asked will in some way stay with you, adopted and adapted to your benefit.