Commentary

The Social Acceptance Of Siri

A while ago, I did a fairly exhaustive series of posts on the acceptance of technology. The psychology of how and when we adopted disruptive tech fascinated me. So MediaPost writer Laurie Sullivan’s article on how more people are talking to their phone caught my eye.

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If you look at tech acceptance, there are a bucket full of factors you have to consider. Utility, emotions, goals, ease of use, cost and our own attitudes all play a part.

But one of the biggest factors is social acceptance. We don’t want to look like a moron in front of friends and family. It was this, more than anything else, that killed Google Glass the first time around. Call it the Glasshole factor.

So, back to the survey mentioned in the article above, which asked essentially: Which shifts in the social universe are making it more acceptable to shoot the shit with Siri?

The survey has been done for the last three years by Stone Temple, so we’re starting to see some emerging trends. And here are the things that caught my attention. First of all, the biggest shifts from 2017 to 2019, in terms of percentage, are: More folks are talking to Siri at the gym, in public restrooms and in the theater.

Usage at home has actually slipped a little (one might assume these conversations have migrated to Alexa and other home-based digital assistants).

If we’re looking at acceptance of technology and the factors driving it, one thing jumps out from the survey. All the shifts are to do with how comfortable we feel talking to our phone in publicly visible situations. There is obviously a moving threshold of acceptability here.

Still, talking to Siri in the three social “safe zones” -- those places where we wouldn’t be judged for speaking to our phones -- has shown little movement in the last three years. These spots are “Home Alone,” “Home with Friends” (public but presumably safe from social judgment) and “Office Alone.”

As much as possible in survey-based research, this isolates the social factor from all the other variables rather nicely and shows its importance in our collective jumping on the voice technology bandwagon.

This highlights an important lesson: You have to budget in the time required for society to absorb and accept new technologies. The more that the technology will be used in visibly social situations, the more time you need to budget. Otherwise, the tech will only be adopted by a tiny group of socially obtuse techno-weenies and will be stranded on the wrong side of the bleeding edge.

As technology becomes more personal and tags along with us in more situations, the designers and marketers of that tech will have to understand this.

This places technology acceptance in a whole new ballpark. As the tech we use increasingly becomes part of our own social-facing brand, our carefully constructed personas and the social norms we have in place become key factors that determine the pace of acceptance.

This becomes a delicate balancing act. How do you control social acceptance? As an example, let’s take one of my favorite marketing punching bags, influencer marketing, and see if we could accelerate acceptance by seeding tech acceptance with a few key social connectors.

That same strategy failed miserably at promoting Google Glass to the public. And there’s a perfectly irrational reason for it. It has nothing to do with rational stuff like use cases, aesthetics or technology.

It had to do with Google picking the wrong influencers: the so-called Google Glass Explorers. As a group, they tended to be tech-obsessed, socially awkward and painfully uncool. They were the people you avoid getting stuck in the corner with at a party because you just aren’t up for a 90-minute conversation on the importance of regular hard-drive hygiene. No one wants to be them.

If this survey tells us anything, it tells us that sometimes  you just have to hope and wait.

Ever since Everett Rogers first sketched it out in 1962, we’ve known that innovation diffusion happens on a bell curve. Some innovations get stranded on the upside of the slope and wither away to nothingness, while some make it over the hump and become part of our everyday lives.

Three years ago, there were certainly people talking to their phones on buses, in gyms and at movie theaters. They didn’t care if they were judged for it. But most of us did care. Today, apparently, the social stigma has disappeared for many of us. We were just waiting for the right time -- and the right company.

2 comments about "The Social Acceptance Of Siri".
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  1. John Donohue` from White Tree Software, March 21, 2019 at 3:38 p.m.

    Not one mention of the obverse issue:

    People holding a conversatation with a robot, not caring about the privacy of others, is extrememly rude and annoying. The fatuous disregard for public manners is obnoxious.

    Stop it!

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 25, 2019 at 1:52 p.m.

    "I can't do that, Dave."

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