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Do we have too much faith in technology?

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Do we have too much faith in technology?

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There have undoubtedly been a huge number of technological advances over the last decade that have had a profound impact on the lives of many, not least our organizations.

Whilst the various big data driven tools have achieved significant success, the technologies that require/support behavioral change have been much more mooted.

Things like enterprise social networks (ESNs) were touted as game changing technologies that will revolutionize how we work, yet their impact has largely been marginal.

A recent study from researchers at the University of Missouri suggests that early champions of ESNs might have been falling into a common trap of over-estimating the impact technology will make.

“Technology has advanced to the extent that people may not understand how a particular technology works, but they do assume that it will work,” the authors say. “We found that people unconsciously associate technology with the notion of success, and this association influences decisions about things like financial decisions, and forecasts of business performance. It is important to determine how this assumption may affect people’s choices because many important decisions involve technology in some fashion.”

The technology effect

The authors termed this overconfidence ‘the technology effect’, and they suggest that it is largely due to our constant exposure to various technologies, and especially those that have proven successful.

The lack of attention given to the numerous technology failures creates a kind of halo effect, whereby we discount the failures and subscribe undue validity to all technologies.

“It turns out that people have more confidence that unfamiliar technologies will provide solutions to a range of problems,” they say. “People seem to put new technology in a category of ‘great things that work which I love but don’t understand,’ whereas they are not as excited about familiar technologies like electricity, solar power or telephones, and they don’t believe these technologies are as likely to provide new solutions.”

What’s more, this confidence in the power of technology prompt some of us to engage in altogether unhealthy behaviors in the belief that technology will eventually bail us out.

“For some people, the technology effect might include the idea that unhealthy behaviors like a poor diet are less impactful because they think that eventually, someone will develop technology that provides a cure for their illness,” the researchers say.

The finding emerged after three studies were conducted to gage how people react to technology.  The first explored the extent to which people link technology to success.  The second focused on our decision making, and asked whether our decision making changed when technology was involved.  The final experiment explored whether investors preferred tech based stocks, despite the financial projections warning them otherwise.

The results suggest that consumers, financial advisors and managers could all gain from a greater awareness of the technology effect, and the consequences it has on our behavior.

“People should be mindful that when they make decisions about many things in their lives, they might unconsciously be influenced by how much they think technology can affect the outcome,” they say. “This belief could affect how governments make decisions about allocations of resources, how corporations make decisions about research and development, or how individuals make purchase and investment decisions. Because this bias tends to occur especially when the technology in question is unfamiliar, it would be wise to seek the opinion of someone with expertise in that specific technology, especially when making financial decisions.”

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