Risks of early adoption, or my ‘cloud’ hasn’t rolled in yet

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iPhone launch

I sold my soul for the 3GS, but the 4 isn't much cheaper

With the most profound technological revolution in modern history currently at hand, it would appear that being an early adopter of technology – someone who is first in line for the newest tablet, smartphone, or cloud-enabled device – would be the most “cool” someone could be.

But maybe not.

Very recently, both Sony and Amazon, two large companies that have taken advantage of the newly popular “cloud computing” model, have come under fire for what are being called “elementary error[s]” resulting in hacked systems (in Sony’s case) and some logistical glitches that caused major network slowdowns (in Amazon’s case). While this makes for a some great critique of the still-nebulous cloud technology at large, what’s to be made of technology’s earliest adopters?

Well, in Sony’s case, if you were an early adopter, there’s a chance that hackers had brief access to your secured credit card information. And that’s not fun. In an age where it has become not only increasingly handy to possess a high-powered smartphone but also fashionable to be seen carrying one, it’s no surprise that being an early adopter is something to be desired. But should it be?

Diffusion of Innovations Graph

Get it now, laggard.

Quite often, the finances of adopting new technologies (part of the innovation and information diffusion theory) are taken into account, and customers wait for price cuts before making a purchase. But much more is at stake. While we can search CNET for tech reviews at all hours of the day, no one predicted the glitches experienced by Sony and Amazon. Glitches may be minor or require a quick software update, but the true risks associated with many of these technologies are still unknown. This is also the case with any and all social media (think privacy).

All this to say that until it is no longer “cool” to be an early adopter, a lot of innocent people may unnecessarily be putting themselves at risk without fully understanding the potential consequences. That fraternity party sounded like a blast a few hours before when all the fun people couldn’t stop talking about it, but from under the kitchen table where everyone woke up, things look a lot different.

For some common relief, here’s a cartoon from The New Yorker:

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