The Six Stages of Technological Acceptance | October 13, 2005

I was listening to Derek Featherstone’s WE05 podcast the other day and he mentioned how the 5 stages of grief mirrored many peoples experience of web accessibility.

You would start off with denial, claiming that accessibility wasn’t an issue that you needed to be aware of. You would then move into anger, being annoyed that you were forced to do something you didn’t want to do. You would then start bargaining; “how about if I only reach single-A conformance?”. You would next hit depression, being frustrated about how difficult things were. And lastly, you would come to acceptance making accessibility part of your every day life.

I’ve been doing a lot of CSS training recently and one of the things I talk about is how web standards have started to hit the mainstream over the last 18 months. Many of the people who used to deny the usefulness of CSS or got angry about it have started to accept its relevance and even get enthusiastic about it. The very same people who would argue with me on mailing lists about how rubbish CSS was and how it would never take off, are now asking questions on CSS, building sites using CSS and even showing others how cool it is.

However I’ve been talking to a lot of people about Ajax and other Web 2.0 type topics in the run up to d.Construct and I’m experiencing a similar level of push-back as I experienced with CSS and web standards 3-4 years ago. People either seem to be blissfully unaware of what is going on, in denial (and that’s not a river in Egypt honey), angry about it, or really into it.

In the field of change management, there are three basic phases people go through. The first phase is called “unfreezing” whereby people start to break out of their existing mindset. This period involves breaking down barriers, overcoming defence mechanisms and finally realising that change is going to happen. The next stage is a time of uncertainty where the person knows that change is happening but doesn’t know how to deal with it. This stage is typified by anger, confusion and frustration. The third and final stage is freezing, whereby the new mindset is accepted and new patterns are built.

So this got me thinking and I came up with my own six stages of technological acceptance.

Blissful Ignorance - People seem to start in a state of blissful ignorance. They are not aware of what is going on around them and frankly don’t care.

Denial - People have heard about this new technology, but it’ll never take off and its not something they will ever need to know.

Anger - People don’t get why everybody else thinks the technology is interesting and they don’t, so they get angry.

Acceptance - Finally people come to the conclusion that if enough people think the technology is interesting, they better start learning about it or risk being left behind.

Understanding - The light-bulb goes on and people start to get why the new technology is so interesting.

Enthusiasm - People get good at the new ways of thinking and actually start getting other people interested in the technology.

Does these stages seem like an accurate description of the process people go though? Do they match the experiences you’ve had? Maybe with people on a mailing list or members of your own team?

Posted at October 13, 2005 4:47 PM


Nick said on October 13, 2005 6:10 PM

Your six make perfect sense to me. One thing I note though is that while I’m on the edge of so many new technologies, a I’m still completely “stage 3” about these things called “ringtones”… grr.

Robin said on October 13, 2005 6:53 PM

You left off stage 3.5 ‘Worried’ (for me mostly about the accessibility implications)

Nathan Smith said on October 13, 2005 7:15 PM

That sounds about right. For me though, there was no stage of denial. I always hated using table tricks, and somehow yearned for a better, more logical way. Great synopsis of CSS adoption.

I think you should put in the stage past acceptance, which could be semantically knit-picky. I tend to err on that site too often.

By the way, I emailed this article to a few friends who are still on the bubble about web-standards. Hopefully they’ll come around sooner than later. :)

Mark Benson said on October 13, 2005 7:59 PM

The 5 stages of grief and your 6 stages of technolological acceptance are useful models for understanding personal growth with regard to emotional and technological change, respectively.

I hear it also applies when people steal your burritos at work.

Kim Siever said on October 13, 2005 8:20 PM

“and that’s not a river in Egypt honey”

That’s hilarious.

patrick h. lauke said on October 13, 2005 8:32 PM

just to be contrary, i’d say that, while it’s undoubtably true that accessibility is a “good thing”™, your 6 stages assume that the technology being initially resisted is also good. sometimes the resistance comes from the fact that a technology just doesn’t work, is forced down people’s throats, or is simply a pipe dream. i’m thinking for instance about the Semantic (uppercase) web…there’s much resistance at the moment which stems from the fact that it’s quite obviously a concept very far removed from reality, and it’s doubtful that we’ll ever get there…

if that makes any sense at all…

Ara Pehlivanian said on October 13, 2005 9:39 PM

You forgot self deprecating disappointment for not being involved in yet another step forward in the industry.

russ Weakley said on October 14, 2005 8:03 AM

Last year I put foward four phases:

Leonya said on October 14, 2005 1:36 PM

When I first heard about web standards I guess I jumped into Understanding immediately, shortly followed by Enthusiasm. But that’s probably because I was an HTML/CSS virgin before, not really spoiled by table frenzy :)