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Calestous Juma

Joanna Howarth

Though new technology appeals to some, the majority of Americans still prefer the familiar. Why the resistance? Calestous Juma, PhD, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and author of Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies aimed to answer this when he spoke to business students at Bentley University.

The Innovator’s Business Series event, hosted by the Center for Integration of Science and Industry, identified the long-standing tension between the need for innovation and the societal pressure to maintain continuity, social order, and stability. Reconciling this tension remains one of today’s biggest policy challenges. Juma’s book reflects the rise of technology over time and highlights some of the biggest misconceptions and psychological factors that lead people to resist technologies and shared advice on how to adapt to today’s rapidly changing technological climate.

The Rapid Pace of Change

“The pace of change in technology and its prospect for disruption is unlike anything we’ve seen in the past,” said Juma. He noted that today’s disruptions to society are immediate and not isolated to the technology industry, and that he expects impending large-scale disruptions and an increasingly prominent global debate over technology’s societal implications.

“Humans are instinctively designed to react to novel things in a way that aims to protect oneself,” said Juma. He went on to say that large tech changes can amplify anxieties and the fear of loss is mainly what drives technology resistance. People often reject technology because it presents changes, big or small, to their immediate world, a world to which they have worked hard to adjust.

Effect on Future Employment

How will technology affect employment in the future? Juma was quick to point out that technology typically generates as many jobs as it replaces. New tech not only creates jobs but entire new industries in which jobs will continue to grow.

Rather than fearing unemployment, people should be exploring ways to use these technologies to offset job loss. Juma says that the best decisions about incorporating new technology come from companies’ internal feedback and that it is vital to create a system for employees and managers to express challenges and successes related to technological changes to provide insights on what to do in the future. It is also important that companies utilize management trainings that support transparent communication among all employees.

The debate over new technology will continue to evolve, but Juma reminded students that it’s imperative for communities continue to have conversations and debates to determine what’s in their collective and personal best interest. He urged universities to teach students not only how to interact with new technologies, but how to react to perceptions of their potential impacts in order to be successful in the workplace. Juma pointed out that all reactions to new technology are valid and we must view them as such if we want to make the most positive contributions in our lives and at work.