Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Tripping Over Categories

I'm imagining a conversation between a couple of merchants one or two thousand years ago. One is using a quill to write an invoice, and the other says to him "You need to be careful with that religious technology. It's fine for copying out gospels, but we have to worry about forgery. Seals just aren't up to the job, and the quill manufacturers aren't doing enough to solve the problem". Or, around the same time, can you imagine two monks complaining that religious technology was being used to paint pictures of the local landowner's friends, or to write out stories like "that Beowulf thing".

Our imaginary merchants and monks are tripping up over categories. Pens and paints may have emerged in a religious context, used by one group of people, and their initial use by other groups in other contexts was undoubtably fraught. But to think of them as 'religious technology' seems ridiculous to us, and would have done little to further their successful adoption.

I wonder if we are tripping over categories in just the same way around what we call the consumerisation of technology. So, a couple of recent examples from Gartner analysts. Nick Jones' very fine blog talks of "consumer devices" and "consumer platforms" in highlighting iPhone Exchange / Activesync problems. Similarly, Mark McDonald talks of "consumer-based technology increasingly [becoming] a consumer tool".

Both are, of course, highlighting real issues. I just wonder for how long the distinction between 'consumer technology' and 'business technology' will be sustainable - and whether making the distinction is already counter-productive. Certainly it must surely increase the risk of opportunities being ignored or written off, because they rely on technology from the 'wrong' category.