The Three Phases of a Technology Wave – Surviving the Techstorm

THE THREE
PHASES OF A
TECHNOLOGY
WAVE

Although the technology surrounding each technology wave seems vastly different, there is a clear development that all technologies must go through to reach widespread adoption39: experimentation, expansion, and transformation. One of the most important factors to consider is that the guiding principles for decision making and our relationship to technology will change as frequently as does the technology itself. The principles used today to make decisions regarding how to use technology will not necessarily apply in tomorrow’s world.

EXPERIMENTATION

During the experimentation phase of the technological wave, an outdated technology starts to be replaced by a new one, but there aren’t immediate or major improvements in functionality. For example, the first cars were called “horseless carriages” and very much resembled actual carriages. In the early stages, this was simply a substitution for a means of transportation that already existed. In the experimentation phase, society often instills total trust in the new technology, expecting it to change everything eventually, yet public perception is more curious and questioning than embracing.

The first cars that were introduced were not that impressive or even better than other means of transportation. They were called “horseless carriages” and were more expensive, noisy and polluting than horse drawn carriages. On top of that, they were no faster than a horse and carriage. This initial “exploring” phase for a fresh technology occurs when the technology introduced is not necessarily an improvement, but rather a new way of doing things. Here the rate of experimentation and innovation is high, and the number of application areas can expand rapidly.

EXPANSION

After the experimentation phase, comes the expansion phase. The new technology improves, leading to a significant increase in demand. The technology then spreads to more and more users, and society eventually gets used to it. Again looking at the automobile example, more people began using cars, driving them to work and travelling around the country. During this expansion phase, productivity improves and the technology is adjusted to fit society’s needs.

When cars grew faster, more reliable and more affordable, their prevalence increased, changing our behavior. People started using cars to go to meetings or visit relatives who lived some distance away. Trucks were used to transport goods. The technology became more and more accepted.

TRANSFORMATION

In the final phase, called transformation, society is restructured. Not only will more and more people be using the new technology at this stage, but society itself adapts to its use. For example, owning a car became more widespread during this phase and car ownership became a social norm, rather than a luxury. This led to a huge increase in traffic and the development of suburbs, shopping malls and drive-in cinemas, things that could not have existed previously. The new technology merges with a new way of thinking, and the full potential is realized.

The peak of a new technology is when it reaches its full potential, becomes commonly accepted and fundamentally changes our lives and society. With the car, this occurred in the 1940s and 1950s, at least in the Western world. As a natural consequence, we could then see the emergence of suburbs, shopping malls and drive-in cinemas, phenomena that would otherwise have been impossible. Our way of living and working had totally changed because of a new technology.