What is the social acceptability of breakthrough technologies?

In the late 1990s, the term “disruptive innovation” was popularized by American economist Clayton Christensen in his book. The innovator’s dilemma. It was quickly adopted due to the strong growth of new technology industries driven by innovation.

Since then, it is also a kind of buzzword that has entered our daily lives and especially the business world. The term “disruptive” refers to many things today, but it is mainly used to describe the general concept of any innovation that disrupts an existing system, industry, or market.

Take, for example, the creation of automobiles as an innovative replacement for horse-drawn vehicles. The first cars were produced as expensive luxury goods. They did not affect the market for earlier modes of transportation, and it was not until the inexpensive Model T Ford was introduced in 1908 that the technology became a breakthrough. In this respect, mass production of an affordable car can be seen as a more disruptive innovation than the car itself.

Social acceptability as a compromise

In this way, innovative technologies can open up new technological markets, identify new values ​​and practices, and transform existing technologies. However, when an innovative technology appears, it is very difficult to predict what value it will acquire. After all, the latter are generally unpredictable, prone to failure and often unprofitable.

This is why industry and governments are reluctant to invest in innovative technologies. This problem is partly due to the lack of systematic and scientific methods for evaluating future technologies, as well as the inherent complexity that new technologies often present.

Therefore, the question arises about the social acceptability of the future user of breakthrough technology.

Four main factors of social acceptability have been identified: utility (the fit between user needs and functionality), usability/usability (the ability to use functionality in practice), liking (emotional appraisal), and cost (both financial costs and social and organizational consequences). purchase of goods).

The participation of users in bridging the gap that separates the original market from the main market is not self-evident. In particular, innovative technologies are usually (and perhaps inherently) impractical from the outset due to their limited functionality and immaturity.

A good example is an electric car. In principle, most of the population is ready to buy an electric car. However, if, on the one hand, autonomy is too limited, and on the other hand, there are not enough charging stations, it is unlikely that someone will be ready to take the plunge to buy one. Therefore, it is necessary to find the right compromise between the new technology and the simplicity/convenience of its use. Therefore, designers should instead ask themselves how to make the technology as acceptable as possible for future use.

In addition, accuracy, price, brand, appearance, security, functionality, interoperability, and reliability are all independent factors that affect user acceptance.

User acceptance is the result of a trade-off between a variety of factors discussed (basic needs, cognitive aspects, physical aspects, social aspects, demographic characteristics and technical experience of users). From this point of view, the mobile phone is a perfect example. If today its adoption is massive, its use in the beginning was far from obvious, accessible, secure and “user friendly”.

Influence of early adopters

The field of information technology is changing rapidly and there have been a number of technological developments and innovations in recent times. Therefore, the adoption of innovative technologies by users is more of a concern than ever.

Today, companies, developers, and IT researchers put a lot of effort into evaluating the features and functions of products in order to meet user needs and increase adoption.

From this point of view, the structure of the social network of target users may consist of different types of interconnected people with different adoption behavior. One particular group of users can have a big impact in accelerating the adoption and adoption of innovations: the early adopters.

The attachment of a large part of the population to the idea of ​​​​buying an electric car is not enough to impose this technology.
Jack Taylor/AFP

These people serve as role models and demonstrate the benefits of new products to other potential users, thereby encouraging their subsequent adoption. They tend to spread information about new products on their social networks through interpersonal communication, which is a key factor in the spread of innovative technologies.

Being socially active, especially through social networking sites and other digital media channels, they can spread information and influence a wide range of potential followers. From this perspective, social media influencers are playing an increasingly decisive role, especially among young people.

Thus, young people, as early adopters, can play an important role in promoting the social acceptability of disruptive technologies. Because juniors are often more tech-savvy than seniors, reverse mentoring systems (reverse mentoring) can be installed in companies where, ultimately, it is the young employee who will transfer his knowledge to the employee with experience. Another leverage is to develop gaming tools that make it easier to learn new skills related to disruptive technologies in a fun and comfortable environment.


This article was written based on the author’s speech at the DTA conference organized last June by EM Normandie..