[20 January 2008 - New York Times] ... Whether humans will embrace or resist an innovation is the billion-dollar question facing designers of novel products and services. Why do people adapt to some new technologies and not to others? Fortunes are made and lost on the answer. Great innovations have foundered over human stubbornness. Consider the Picturephone, trumpeted by AT&T at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 as a major technological advance. Engineers reasoned that if hearing someone’s voice over the phone was terrific, wouldn’t seeing a face be even better?
Consumers didn’t think so. AT&T’s Picturephone, which would have added around $90 to a person’s monthly phone bill in 1974, a huge amount for the time, “was superfluous, adding little information to voice alone, especially considering its high price,” said Kenneth Lipartito, a professor of history at Florida International University. Even today, when adding video to a phone is a trivial cost, consumers may rebel. Video-conferencing often remains an activity forced on people by their employers. Resistance to technology is an omnipresent risk for every innovator. Even a device as fabulously freeing as the personal computer struck some people as an abomination. In 1990, the poet Wendell Berry famously declared his perpetual allegiance to the typewriter in his essay, “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer.” More