Opinion Editorials

The true problem with innovations catching on: geek jargon


(Editorial) Today’s innovations are numerous and impressive, but there is a problem with adoption rates, as geek jargon holds back the very concepts being so dramatically shifted.


Innovation is happening, but most people don’t get it

The world we live in is awe-inspiring, and innovation is happening right before our eyes, but there is a struggle for the average person to connect with some basic concepts. Because you read AG, you’ve heard of cryptocurrencies, augmented reality, 3D printing, wearable technologies, gesture-controlled tech, and you may have whizzed past the content because you don’t know what some of those words mean, and you’re not alone.

The real problem with tech innovations catching on is geek jargon. Most people hear a word like “cryptocurrency” or “Bitcoin” and turn the page, because it sounds foreign, it sounds difficult to understand, and it sounds like words made up by geeks. And they are words made up by geeks. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s look at how this happens.

Let’s say I’m studying economics at the University of Southern California, and I get this idea of an alternative currency that is not regulated by the government, rather by the people, and it stabilizes itself and has a set number of units that will ever be created, unlike printing money, and the currency would be completely digital and accepted online by companies. It’s a pipe dream, a Utopian fantasy. Right?

Nope, that’s a cryptocurrency, of which Bitcoin (which you’ve heard of) is. It’s real.

So why doesn’t anyone get it? Because it’s jargon. As a college kid, I named it whatever the hell I wanted to, and when I explained it to other economic geeks, they got it and it made sense. They explained it to their parents, who also got it, but ask the clerk at Gap if they accept cryptocurrencies yet, and you’ll get a blank stare.

Innovation starts at the epicenter – the inventor’s inner circle. It expands beyond that, but many of today’s innovations mentioned above have an image problem, a branding problem, and therefore, a problem with adoption. If something sounds like it’s not applicable to your life, you zip past it in the era of information overload. If something sounds like an exclusive geek technology, you don’t think twice about it.

Is this a permanent problem?

The jargon of many of today’s innovations, particularly in the tech world, has a branding problem. Take for example 3D-printing. That is pretty self-explanatory, but if the earliest adopters referred to it as subtractive robotic modeling, most people would have no idea what the hell it was.

Is this a permanent problem? No. Information travels faster today than ever in history, and since everyone carries a little computer everywhere, they get what an app is, feel connected to technology, and have an entry level of interest, so innovations that are poorly named and poorly branded aren’t doomed, they will just have a slower adoption rates than they have to.

Innovators, thank you for what you do – keep on inventing, but before you name your innovation, ask your Nana if she understands what “subtractive robotic modeling” is versus “3D-printing” so people don’t ignore your world-changing innovation simply because it sounds too geeky and distant from their lives.

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