digital disruption does not mean digital adoption

Digital Disruption Isn’t Digital Adoption: Technology Isn’t Changing Society “Like Never Before”

Gee Ranasinha Marketing

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Many industries get overly complacent with the status quo. They get comfortable with the way things are, and are prepared to bring a fight to anyone who’s looking to change that. So when something comes along that threatens to create a technological disruption, they kick back.

The French painter Paul Delaroche (1797 – 1856), upon seeing a Daguerreotype photograph for the first time, famously said “From today, painting is dead.” Hmm, didn’t quite work out that way mon pote, did it?

In 1894 Lord Kelvin (the guy who came up with the temperature scale that now bears his name) made a speech where, amongst other things, he predicted that radio “had no future.” Five years later, the first factory to manufacture radios on a commercial scale was opened. Just eight years after that, a radio could be found in 50% of homes in the USA.

Zero to 50% adoption in eight years.

Clearly Lord Kelvin screwed up big time. But then the guy ended up having a bit of a track record of not seeing the bigger picture. Yes, he came up with an important refinement to Carnot’s Second Law Of Thermodynamics. But he’s also the guy who maintained heavier-than-air flying machines were impossible, X-rays were a hoax, and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was scientifically impossible since the Earth couldn’t possibly be as old as Darwin said it was.

History is littered with similar quotes from notable figures of the day. But there have been as many feet inserted into mouths with the advent of new technologies. The biggest recent example I can think of was a TV interview by the then-CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, who laughed at the launch of Apple’s iPhone. “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”

Oh dear. How Windows Phone working out for your, Steve? Yeah, thought so.

“Rapid Adoption” Might Not Be All That Rapid

But let’s go back to those early 20th century technologies – the telephone, radio, TV, cars, planes, and so on. We’re often led to believe that today’s digital technologies are being adopted by the masses faster than any other. Yet some of those earlier technologies reached 50% penetration (the generally-accepted measurement yardstick for this kind of stuff) quicker than things like personal computers, or smartphones.

“Not true!” I hear you cry. “Smartphones are the fastest adopted piece of technology in human history! It’s true I tell you. It’s on the internet and everything!

The problem with all those bar charts showing (for example) TV taking 30 years to reach 50% adoption, is that most of them are using the wrong starting-point. The date something was invented is usually very different from the date you and I could buy it. The first public demonstration of television was by John Logie Baird in 1926, but the first commercially manufactured electronic TVs didn’t appear until 1934. If you want to compare like with like, then you need to say that the internet was invented in 1969 and the cellphone in 1973.

But regardless of whether the naysayers have their dates right or wrong, there’s a bigger conversation at hand. The issue is less about the simple adoption of technology and more about how the technology pervades into our daily lives.

Technology Adoption Isn’t Speeding-up. It’s Fragmenting

If you look at the implications of their adoption in society, there’s an argument to be made that TV, radio, and the rest have had a far deeper and more profound societal impact than any digital technology has had (so far, at least).

Look at today’s over-hyped technologies – smart watches, the Internet of Things, 3D printers, virtual reality, and so on. These technologies are not only being adopted slower than PCs or smartphones. They’re currently on a shallower trajectory of mass adoption than the telephone, TV, or even microwave ovens. Not only that, but a fifth of smartphone users don’t use their device to connect to the internet. They’re using their smartphones in the same way they used their dumbphones – simply for making calls and sending texts.

Of course there’s no escaping the fact that the impact of digital technology, especially within sales and marketing, is expanding on pretty much every front. It will continue to do so, but there can be little doubt that its pace (in terms of adoption) is slowing. It’s important to take stock once in a while, and have a reality check. To not necessarily believe the BS. Digital technology is not changing society “at a rate that’s never been seen.”

It’s the societal adoption that’s the key driver here. Digital disruption may be seen as a revolution, but a revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools, it happens when society adopts new behaviors. The “problems” that smart watches or internet-connected thermostats are designed to solve, for example, are currently not perceived as being big enough problems for the majority of us to buy them. There’s no killer use-case.

Diversification Is Neither Acceleration Nor Disruption

Furthermore the technology itself is not becoming more disruptive. Most of the so-called stars of what we colloquially call digital disruption are products or services built upon existing infrastructure, such as the internet or cellphone networks. As a result it’s easy to confuse acceleration with diversification.

I see all of this as not only a pity, but a missed chance. Technology has the potential to address inequality in opportunity across social and political divides. Instead we’re more interested in having our iWhatever delivered the same day – by a drone.

Real disruption, disruption equal to the social and behavorial impact brought about by technologies such as electricity or radio, needs to be about bigger things. About developing infrastructure, hygiene, food production, energy creation, or healthcare. Not Snapchat glasses or smart washing machines.

And if we are honest with ourselves, that’s simply not happening quickly enough.

Feedspot award

Blowing our own trumpet

Many thanks to the team at Feedspot for selecting the KEXINO Small Business Marketing Blog as one of the Top 100 Marketing Blogs On The Web.
It’s really appreciated.

About the Author
Avatar for Gee Ranasinha

Gee Ranasinha

Gee Ranasinha is CEO and founder of KEXINO. He's been a marketer since the days of 56K modems, lectures on marketing and behavioral economics at a European business school, and was noted as one of the top 100 global business influencers by (those wonderful people who make financial software).

Originally from London, today Gee lives in a world of his own in Strasbourg, France, tolerated by his wife and young son.

Find out more about Gee at Follow him on Twitter at KEXINO, on Facebook at, or on LinkedIn at


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