Friday, 13 November 2015

Early adopters

You may already be familiar with Bernal's ladder, which refers to the way new ideas are received. According to the twentieth century crystallographer, as reported in Nigel Calder's Magic Universe: A Grand Tour of Modern Science, each new idea goes through four stages. First, it can't be right. Then, it might be right but it's not important. Next, it might be important but it's not original. Finally it is what people have thought all along.

At a slight tangent to this, here is a look at the people who adopt a new technology. We are familiar with labels such as "early adopter" and "late adopter". Here are the kinds of people who may adopt a technology, with a tentative order:
  • Nutters
  • Idealists
  • People who can do maths
  • Big businesses
  • The majority of the population
  • Stubborn reactionaries

The first people to use technology are the mad scientists. For example Alexander Graham Bell made the first phone call and Albert Hofmann took the first dose of LSD. Hot on their tails you get people who have irrational and idealistic reasons for using technology. 

Sooner or later, if an idea is to succeed, it will be for economic reasons. Edison's bulbs took over from candles because they produced more light and less incendiary damage per unit of cost. Generators and electric wiring cost more than chandeliers and ladders, but in the longer term candles cost a lot more than coal. People who are good at mathematics would realise this sooner than others. Some people are not good at mathematics, and many more believe they are not good at mathematics. Initially this was because most people could not go to school and did not have the opportunity to study maths. More recently it is because maths is used in schools to discriminate between different students, and a majority are persuaded that they are no good at the subject so that education systems can devote their limited resources to a smaller group. 

In addition, political biases can influence mathematical ability, as reported here. As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." There may be two competing mathematical calculations; if the first one is somebody else's money, the one in your pay packet will probably take precedence.

Big businesses often have few people who can do mathematics. Promotion to positions of power more likely depends on interpersonal skills and verbal skills. But once the mathematicians have won their case over the politicians who are in charge, these businesses will take advantage of new technology. Once they have done this, and their own media activities kick in, the masses will adopt the technology. They may have not choice. Whether or not people have adopted LEDs for their homes, they will likely have them in their fridges and cars if they have bought a recent model.

Finally all that are left are the stubborn reactionaries.