When I was in high school, my mother — a gifted cook — vigorously resisted buying a microwave oven.
“I don’t need that box taking up my counter space when I already have a stove,” she would say. The family, having heard about microwave ovens from friends for nearly a decade, finally bought her one against her wishes. Once she started using it, my mom fell in love with the microwave and used it for more and more recipes.
One time she tried using it to bake a cake. The failed experiment generated great family stories and helped her realize the limitations of the new device without diminishing her admiration of its benefits.
My mom was not alone in resisting change to new technology. Fifteen years ago, if I approached you with a small, black, handheld rectangle and told you I wanted to sell it to you for $1,000, you would probably think I was crazy. If I explained that this new device, called an “iPhone,” could help you do email on the run and it would change your life, you’d tell me that you don’t need it because you already have a computer. If I mentioned the availability of weather and traffic updates, you might say the radio station broadcasts those every 10 minutes. If you’d never heard of a smartphone before, it would probably take at least several minutes of conversation to pique your interest.
You probably would still not buy one of these devices until you had reached a certain critical mass of exposure, watching friends, seeing ads and thinking about how it could help you. Once you did, you would realize you had a “latent need” for this device. Once you recognized your latent need, you would not only want one, but you’d happily pay $1,000 for it and wonder how you ever lived without it. So it goes with the adoption of many new technologies. We don’t realize our latent need until we witness firsthand the benefits of the disruptive new offering.
We doctors are among the most likely to defend the status quo and resist adopting new technology. We rely on the dogma of our training to guide treatment decisions, and we suspect ulterior motives of the drug and device industry when it brings forth new products. Plagued by indecision about a new offering, we ask for more studies to justify its use when FDA registration studies have already amply demonstrated both safety and effectiveness.