Technology Adoption Time

Chances are, if you watch TV at all, you’ve seen numerous ads about the upcoming transition from analog to digital television. Just like when the campaign ads were playing, I cannot wait for this February 17th date to pass so that I will no longer have to view the same notices again and again. Recently however, there has been an attempt to delay the transition until June 12th. This motion passed the Senate, but initially failed in the House. Last week they approved it and it has been sent to the President’s desk for signing. One of the main arguments in favor of the delay that I have seen is that an estimated 6.5 million people are not yet prepared for this switch. Since I was also reading on my industry’s transition in HTML 5 and CSS 3, I got to thinking about our state of technology adoption.

You see, the DTV transition has been slated for nearly a decade (according to one of those afore-linked articles). There has been much buzz lately about HTML 5, which has been in the works since 2004, five years ago. CSS 2 was an official Recommendation by 1998. It’s still not fully implemented correctly by some browsers, and eleven years later there is still no CSS 3 (it began as a working draft in 2001). CSS is the cutting-edge of the web industry. Standardistas are waving their flags from every street corner. This is not to knock against the phenomenal work of those behind the technologies. It is just at times staggering how long we take to adopt them.

In my opinion, the government should not approve the delay in digital TV. Ten years seems like plenty of time to prepare. With the population of the United States at over 300 million, a mere 6.5 million does not seem like a large enough percentage to stress over. It seems like there always is a group of people who will not upgrade their technology, whether because of ignorance, stubbornness, or financial duress, until they are forced to. For the government to assume that in the next four months they can accomplish for a meager ~2% of the population what the past years barrage of TV and mail marketing, not to mention ten years of planning, have failed to do just sounds like dragging feet and a waste of money.

Turning now to HTML 5 and CSS 3. I realize these are technologies being formed, and the “delay” is in the developers, not adopting users. Lachlan Hunt wrote in Issue Number 250 of A List Apart that work on the new markup language is not expected to finish for ten to fifteen years. We all know that the Internet is a rapidly changing landscape. The Internet was hardly mainstream fifteen years ago! Because it is in a constant state of change, evolving as needed, it seems foolishly optimistic to try to make a standard that will meet all needs, past and future. What will have changed in ten years that will cause them to massively reevaluate aspects of the recommendation? There is such a strong desire and push from web designers and developers now to have more standard and relevant markup. Can the current generation wait this long to have a working equivalent of >header<? (As an aside, sometimes I wonder about the use of English in our tags, especially with China and Asia leading the way in online population) CSS faces the same challenges, in development for 8 years, though I don’t know the estimated completion time, if there even is one. Both of these also then have to get into the browsers - in a way, the actual users of the technology. This in itself can take some time as seen by Microsoft’s huge time gap between IE6 and IE7. Fortunately, many browsers already have partial CSS3 support.

But what is it about all these technologies, or perhaps technology in general, that makes their progression and dissemination so difficult? Perhaps it is merely my young age that makes past technologies development seem lightning fast, but for an industry that prides itself on its speed of growth and change, this could be labeled slothful. Isn’t the reason that good university courses teaching web development are so hard to come by is because of our constantly undulating technological landscape? Maybe why this seems so slow to me is because my skills have matured - I no longer am in a place where I am learning everything to bring myself up to date. So now I learn and move with the industry rather than catching up. Or maybe the industry is just maturing and realizes that the haphazard creation of markup and styling languages needs to be tamed and thought through carefully.

I am not pretending to have an answer to all this questions and prodding. I am just voicing my thoughts into the fray. And let me state again that I am not attacking those developing the languages I use daily to create websites. On the contrary, I have nothing but the deepest respect for the people who are pushing this forward. It is far more than I am capable of. I realize there must be much more going on that I am not aware of that causes such a perceived delay. This is me asking to have the gaps in my knowledge filled in, while at the same time saying, “Let’s continue to push forward with all speed to improve our technology!”