Technology, Innovation, Disruption (TID):


It may sound strange to begin a post on technology by referencing my 93-year-old mother, lovingly known by our family as The Bubbster. However, I think her experience with new technology is an accurate reflection of our more general relationship to technological innovation.  Since this will be cathartic for me, I am going to take my time, lay back on my couch, and start from the beginning.

The Bubbster was introduced to digital technology in her early 80’s. It was an old computer from my office, dented and disused, but fully operational. Over the course of the next year she became familiar with Facebook, email and digital photo sharing. During this time, she began to recognize her increasing physical limitations, and her inability to travel. Then It dawned on her that technology could enable her to enjoy a continuous virtual connection to friends and family from around the world.

The next step was purchasing a flip phone with a green screen. She accepted the gift under vehement protest. According to her, she neither wanted nor needed the unnecessary device. Over the next few months, my sister and I split time providing training and tech support. Miraculously, The Bubbster became proficient in not only the phone function, but also the text function. She learned the hard way that she received immediate responses from her grandchildren when she texted, and nothing but abysmal silence when she left a voicemail.

Several years ago, I accepted the fact that The Bubbster’s ability to see and interact with these older devices was becoming more difficult.  So, after more than a few arguments, she was the not so proud owner of a new Android smart phone. Many years later I will not claim that she has mastered the phone. Technical support is exhausting and unending, and we have enlisted the help of her grandson to expand our technical support ratio to 3 staff to one Bubbster and we can almost keep up with support needs. Nonetheless, she successfully calls and texts, takes photos and shares them, composes emails, performs Google searches, and checks the weather on multiple weather apps. Now, she never goes anywhere without her phone. She has a small phone carrying case attached to her walking sticks—if she moves, the phone moves with her.

The Bubbster’s technological odyssey illustrates some more general points about our relationship to innovation. It’s difficult to accept change. We have to overcome a lot of resistance. And our acceptance is often colored by ambivalence. However, there are also immense benefits.

On the one hand, The Bubbster still hates technology. It frustrates her. All the time. And she refuses to acknowledge that the technical malfunctions she experiences on a daily basis, are too often of her own making. It is always the fault of the phone, which she complains about incessantly—but never, ever, keeps out of reach. Because, on the other hand, she loves technology. The act of accepting the inevitability of innovation has kept her connected to the world and been a key ingredient in her ability to live an independent life.

One of the ironies of our current moment is that the mature, demographic population that may have the most to gain from technological innovation, approaches it with the most caution and contempt.

This is precisely the case with the role of technology in the building industry. Those who are most in need of it, and who would benefit most from it—the old guard who still run industry companies both large and small and wield the most influence—approach it with caution. Some don’t even embrace it slowly and begrudgingly, they simply refuse it. Opting instead to maintain the comfort of the status quo.

It would be wiser to accept the inevitability of innovation. Even better, to embrace it with open arms. The potential benefits are indeed immense.

If anyone in our family (translated as my wife or I) tries a new digital function and is not immediately successful and requires a short explanation or training session, that uncertainty has been defined (by our kids) as pulling a “Bubbster”.

Accepting change is difficult, no doubt. But never fear. Just go out and pull a “Bubbster”. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!