Monday, January 19, 2009

What makes people embrace a new technology?

I have written at length in this blog about how the public will jump on certain new technologies and totally ignore others...and speculated on the reasons why. The example I have given often is "HD" radio, the catch-phrase the National Association of Broadcasters has attached to digital, over-the-air, broadcast radio. Despite millions of dollars in marketing, the new technology has yet to get any traction whatsoever, even as the NAB cheers small victories like Volvo making HD receivers an extra-cost option in their cars.
I am reproducing here a very good explanation of why this is the case, but consider this in terms of other technologies that seem like a good idea, get cast out there before the swine, and get ignored or at least fail to gain traction. Hams might think of D-Star or HF digital. Commercial radio had AM stereo and quadrophonic. Movies have 3-D and even "Smell-o-vision." You can probably think of your own examples in other areas.
This essay is from Mark Ramsey, who publishes a great blog on radio, and I reproduce a good portion of it here--completely without permission:

Maybe the last time I'll ever write about HD Radio
It was during the 1920 presidential election that one of America's first radio stations, KDKA, demonstrated why America wanted and needed radio. This was the first time that election returns were announced live to an audience eager to hear them. No longer did folks have to wait for the newspaper special edition to hit the street the next morning. Lucky listeners already knew Warren Harding had won the election, and that news had come to them, like magic, from the sky.
As reported in the book
Hello, Everybody!: The Dawn of American Radio, the excitement triggered by KDKA's coverage set off a national mania.
On the morning of November 3, Westinghouse's switchboard was flooded with calls from people wanting to find out how they could get a radio.
To be sure, radio was the iPod of the 1920's. And, just as sure, HD radio is not the iPod of the 2000's.
I haven't written much about HD radio lately because, like the vast majority of America, I'm not particularly interested in it. After all, radio's challenges and opportunities run deep and long, and HD is neither challenge nor opportunity. It's worth noting, however, that in our zeal to establish this new medium as one that matters, we have forgotten the lessons of our own industry's history.
What, after all, are the lessons of the mania sparked by KDKA on a cold winter's night in 1920? What was it that made radio worth wanting for those folks who had none?
Three things, I think:

1. Radio provided highly desirable content. Election results - Presidential election results - hours before the newspaper? That's attractive content.
2. Radio provided something that couldn't be gotten any other way. Unless someone who heard the broadcast called you to tell you about it, you would have to wait for the morning paper. And that call from a friend only served to sell you on the need to buy your own radio.
3. Radio was dramaticallly different from all other substitutes. In its earliest days, radio was indistinguishable from magic. What was the next closest medium? Recorded discs? The newspaper?
The fate of HD radio was sealed even before it was introduced.
It would never contain highly desirable content because such content comes at a price, and no rational broadcaster would stick such valuable content on radios that didn't exist yet in the marketplace, yet the lesson above clearly suggests that there is no demand without the valuable content to drive it.
Especially in this Internet-enabled age, HD provides nothing that couldn't be gotten in many other ways. More every day.
HD is dramaticallly similar to - not different from - all of those alternatives, and not necessarily better than any.
This may well be the last time I even comment on HD, so completely has my interest in it waned.
I'll leave you with this evergreen reminder: Technology is transitional. Content is forever.

That last paragraph should be chiseled into monuments and erected in front of every radio station in America!

Don N4KC

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