Technology is part of a modern fascination with what's new. It's always been like that.

Part of the challenge for any new entrepreneur or startup is to find a mainstream and lasting application of some newfangled technology. Today that includes AI, VR, AR, drones, blockchain and other breakthroughs. Fifteen years ago, it was Bluetooth, video streaming, social networking, mobile computing, etc. Since the beginning of consumer culture, there's been an ongoing challenge to demonstrate the value of new technology, such as television, the telephone, floppy disks and beepers--and we the consumers have accepted it all. 

As a society, we're gluttons for novelty. Every day, literally, some idea is invented or promoted, tantalizing our collective imagination and forcing us out of our comfort zones. We are constantly in awe of yet another technological promise and willing to experiment and try something new. But at some point, technology ceases to be, well, technology.

What we consider to be technology has more to do with where you sit on the adoption curve than anything else. We accept things that predate us regardless of their complexity, but we tend to be wary of new things that we don't yet understand. Technology surrounds us in differing forms - toilets, pianos, combustible engines, air conditioners, even microwaves. But because these phenomena were created and integrated into our culture before our individual consciousness matured, they're no longer considered "technological advancements." We take them for granted and engage with them without thinking.

It is only "technology" if it was developed after a certain point in our consciousness--the time in our young lives when we are most open and receptive to trying something new.

Technology doesn't exist in a vacuum; it's a process, an evolution, building upon other innovations before it. Take the telephone for example. If you were born during a certain period in the twentieth century, the phone was an anchor device of your household, a tool. Most families had just one line and the device was tethered to the wall. Then came the cordless phone - you could now take the phone to different parts of the home. Then came caller ID which allowed you to screen calls. And then the cell phone emerged - tethered to you, not a wall or part of the house. Today, what we call our "phone" is much, much more, but we still frame our understanding of these mobile devices within that archaic context. Smartphones aren't phones, they're inter-connected, touch-screen enabled, mini supercomputers. It's impossible to understand and value the modern device known as a "telephone" if we don't have that history and context to frame it.

Let's look at another example--Snapchat. For those of a certain age, it's an easy-to-use app with obvious commands, like scrolling and swiping. For other older generations, Snapchat came along after their senses had become aware and mature, so it's confusing for them to use. At some level, we label things as technology when we don't feel like we intuitively know how to use or engage with it. That's why our parents ask their kids to program the VCR, and now those same kids are asking their own children to program their phones. Soon those children will need help familiarizing themselves with autonomous driving or space travel.

So what does this mean if you are in the midst of working on a new technology? It means we should be motivated by achieving a state of intuitive understanding with users, rather than pushing a breakthrough, patented, super technology. The goal should be to foster a ruthlessly and unapologetically intuitive relationship - one where user manuals and "how-tos" are unnecessary.

There's a day when technology stops being technology. The day when it is no longer magic, no longer marvels or no longer inspires awe. It is on this day it has achieved a newfound utility. It becomes intuition.

Published on: Dec 21, 2017