The Tech Threshhold

The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently published a study on the usage of information and communications technology (there’s a great breakdown here). This includes internet and cell phone usage. The most interesting part that jumped out at me was the number of users that either are annoyed by technology (29%) or don’t use it due to inexperience (23%). So, I ask this question:

If technology was easier to use (and understand), would more people be comfortable using it? Or, does the very nature of technology limit the number of users that will adopt it?

In context, this is very relevant to me relating specifically to the work I did on the eNeighbors application interface. My design efforts were focused on simplicity and a very “non tech” look and feel, but even more importantly, the very essence of the application was designed to focus on a small number of tasks and to perform those tasks easily and efficiently. In short, I was targeting the inexperienced technology user with no prior exposure to things like web 2.0 sites, Ajax tools, RSS, blogs, etc. Does this make it more likely to be used, or will those individuals who resist using technology still be reluctant to adopt the tool?

I think the key is relevance.

If a technology tool can provide a service or information that is relevant to the user, those previous biases can be overcome since there is a very real reward for exerting that extra effort.

When it comes to content, there are certain types of information that we’ve become numb to. TV commercials, banner ads, etc. have lost a significant amount of their impact due to the fact we encounter them when they are not relevant. I think the future of online advertising is heavily dependent on this concept of relevance.

I realize that is exactly what Google keywords does (and why it’s been so successful), but ultimately, the amount of quality within those pieces of relevant information needs to grow before we once again grow numb to it. That level of quality is going to be based on filters and behavioral awareness. There must be a limit to the information, otherwise it loses it’s impact. And that it is exactly why there is a race to the “local” finish line. The question is: where does that line exist?

I like to think it’s in my own backyard.