Technology and behaviour change: 10 examples

Anyone been to a party recently? Me too! Mine involved warm cans of Carling and an aborted BBQ in the company of friends I only see a handful of times each year.

One of the evening’s topics of conversation was music. It wasn’t my distaste for insipid indie that caused debate but the constant stream of iPod interfere-ers. Standing in the kitchen for 15 minutes, one person changed the song playing on the ipod no less than 12 times. Now we all like to believe our own taste in music is superior to that of even our closest friends but this faffing went beyond the usual self-indulgence. The glowing iPod was to blame. The device itself had changed the way that people were interacting with what it was created to deliver. Listening to an intro, a verse and the 1st chorus is enough for some people… then it’s on, on, on to the next thing. I wager that, if we were at a party 40 years ago listening to music on Vinyl where music is naturally chunked into 25 minute sections this person would have not been so impatient – as the technology would not have trained them to be this way. This got me thinking about the other ways that technology influences behaviour. I counted ten before getting tired.

  • Staying on music for a while – what kind of music do you like? Is it just one genre? Metal, grime, pop? Maybe a combination of 2-3 genres? Or would you describe you tastes as ‘eclectic’? I would argue that mp3 players have changed the way we consume music. Random play mode means most people in my generation are ‘eclecticists’ now. Free music (mp3s ripped from friends and illegally downloaded) mean there’s no barrier to trying out new music.
  • An obvious one. Music itself has been cheapened through ubiquity. Many young people just aren’t used to paying for music. The market value for a CD in 1995 was £,14 in 2010 it is £8.
  • The next 3 are related and can be grouped under the theme accelerated everything. The service impatience created by self-service. How long does it take to buy a train ticket online? How did you feel standing in the queue at rush hour waiting for cashier number 2 to become available? Expectations of waiting times in the real world have compressed because of the efficiency of service delivered online.
  • The anonymity of electronic communication emboldens individuals. It is easier to be critical without the immediate feedback of someone’s reaction.
  • The anonymity of electronic communication accelerates intimacy. The getting to know you stage of any relationship is compressed in 2010. This becomes clearer when you compare the same situation today to 15 years ago when technologies were less/unavailable. Can you remember phoning up your first boy/girlfriend? If you’re 30+ chances are you’d have to cross your fingers, ring their house phone, speak to their mum or dad (!), wait for the footsteps of your beloved to approach the receiver all without losing your nerve and hanging up. Now? Go ask someone under 16 about how they asked out their other half. The difficult questions can now be asked by txt or IM. The dating game is different in 2010 with new rituals like the post date text. See above.
  • An extension of how mobile phones have changed the way we interact with one another is sexting. This is a trend that is only possible due to cheap widely available mobile technology. How are the norms of young people’s relationships altered by sexting if it is now seen as normal behaviour, just a new ‘base’ to be covered? How does it change the way boys think of girls?
  • Complaining. It is so easy to register our discontent online that we do so far more often. Either that or we are far more angry nowadays. The article about Steven Gately’s death by Jan Moir was the most recent example, registering over 25,000 complaints. It will remain the most complained about media article for a while until the next scandal, and the one after that.  
  • The online world means new, different audiences open up for products. First to mind: the types of people playing poker online are different to those playing at a casino. If like me you’ve ever been dragged into a casino count the number of women you see. I’d wager you wouldn’t need the fingers of both hands. Online the player ratios are far more evenly balanced. 
  • If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? For some if an event happens and it’s not on Facebook, it really hasn’t happened. I’d argue that the knowledge that a night out will be recorded and posted online affects where people go, what they do and to an extent, how they act. Observe people on nights out and the way they photograph themselves, how often, in what situations and in which poses. Inspect your friends’ profile pages. You know who I mean. Living your life one step removed from the moment – having half an eye on the invisible audience who will consume it later – affects your ability to enjoy it. Perhaps Warhol’s prediction that in the future we’d all be famous for 15 minutes was incorrect: in the future, we’ll be famous to 15 people.

There’s your ten. I’m off to stamp on my mp3 player and delete my social networking profile.


About Simon Shaw

I'm a Director at an insight consultancy. I'm interested in marketing, market research & consumer psychology. The views expressed are not necessarily those of my employer.
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