The Diderot Effect of New Technology

This blog post is sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

In his essay Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown, the 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot described what is now referred to as the Diderot Effect.

After Diderot was given the gift of an elegant scarlet robe, he not only parted with his old dressing gown, but he also realized that his new robe clashed with his scruffy old study.  Therefore, he started replacing more and more of his study.  First, he replaced his old desk, then he replaced the tapestry, and eventually he replaced all of the furniture until the elegance of his study matched the elegance of his new robe.

I have recently fallen prey to what I refer to as the Diderot Effect of New Technology.


Regrets on Parting with My Old Laptop Computer

A few months ago, after finally succumbing to the not-so-subtle pressure from my friend, fellow technology writer, and Mac guy, Phil Simon, I purchased a MacBook Air.

Now, of course, there was absolutely nothing wrong with my three-year-old Dell Latitude laptop computer.  It provided a sufficient amount of memory, speed, and storage.  Its applications for writing and blogging, web browsing and social networking, as well as audio and video editing were productively supporting my daily business activities.  Additionally, all of my peripherals (printer/scanner, flat screen monitor, microphone, speakers) were also getting their jobs done quite nicely, thank you very much.

However, as soon as the elegant, but not scarlet, MacBook Air was introduced into my scruffy old home office, the Diderot Effect began, well, affecting my perception of the technology that I was using on a daily basis.

Initially, I continued to use my Dell for my daily business activities, and dedicated only a small amount of work time to becoming accustomed to using my new MacBook.  (I had once been an Apple affectionado, but it had been 10 years since I owned a Mac).  

But it didn’t take long before I would have to describe myself as, to paraphrase the 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson, inebriate of MacBook Air am I.

(For the less poetically-minded reader, that’s just a fancy way of saying that I became addicted to using my new MacBook Air.) 

So, much like Diderot before me, I have begun replacing more and more of my home office.  The only difference being that I am trying to match the elegance (and, yes, of course, also the powerful and easy-to-use functionality) of my new technology.


The Diderot Effect of New Technology

The consumerization of IT has become a significant contributing factor to the increasingly rapid pace at which new technology is introduced into the enterprise.  These elegant modern applications seemingly clash with our scruffy old legacy applications, and can evoke a desire to start replacing more and more of the organization’s technology.

However, donning the scarlet robes of new technology can become an expensive endeavor.  (The subtitle of Diderot’s essay was “a warning to those who have more taste than fortune.”)  Genefa Murphy has blogged that “one of the main reasons for IT debt is the fact that the enterprise is always trying to keep up with the latest and greatest trends, technologies, and changes.”

“In our race to remain competitive,” Murphy concluded, “we have in essence become addicted to the latest and greatest technologies.  We need to acknowledge we have a problem before we can take action to rectify it.”

Diderot was able to both acknowledge and take action to rectify his addiction.  “Don’t fear that the mad desire to stock up on beautiful things has taken control of me,” he reassures us at the conclusion of his essay.

Hopefully, the mad desire to stock up on new technological things hasn’t taken control of either you or your organization.

This blog post is sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.


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