The Mundania Files

From Early Adopters to Early Alerters

In 2020, during times of sudden enforced physical distancing, people searched for ways to connect socially through new digital services and devices. Adoption of technological novelties became rampant. Transformation abrupt. People searched for new tools, new habits took form. Technological change seeped into everyday life.

These are times when the ones embracing new technologies get attention, when they might act as influencers for a majority searching for new technologically generated solutions and opportunities.

In come the early adopters, sometimes considered the heroes of innovation economies, the avant garde, the pioneers, the trail blazers. Sometimes called Lighthouse Customers or even Alpha Consumers. Embracing the new. Taking some kind of risk by engaging with beta-versions and early versions of technologies under development. The early adopter-concept come from Everett Rogers’ ideas and book about Diffusion of Innovations from 1962.[1] The ideas do not expound on social and cultural complexity and various irregularities that can be related to technological change. But based on a simple and straightforward model the theories are very persistent and remain widely used to describe the processes around emerging technologies.

Adoption is not that far from adaptation. Both words point at a transformative process. Some new element is introduced in an (ec0)system and it changes what was there before. The change can be slow and barely unnoticably, or it can be dramatical. New conditions, opportunities, threats and after a while also new habits and routines.The early adopters are ready to take on this transformation, to adopt a service or device and to also be adapted to a system. Early adoption is often promoted as a proactive manoeuvre, an acquisition or takeover. But it is often disregarded that it is also a submissive action. Adoption is to some extent adaptation, a defiance, acceptance and submission to a system or technology.


There are other ones than the early adopters in the landscape of technological change and innovation. People not necessarily intentionally taking risks, but being put at risk. In times of widespread technological change, we should raise our gaze and look at not only early adopters but also at early alerters. The ones telling us about the inherent maladies and defects of an emerging system or technological innovation.

Within a system focused on social and technological transparency, a system fetishising  limitless sharing of information, we certainly find the early alerters. The people being put at risk by the very system, by enforced transparency. The people not following norms, challenged minorities, dissidents. People that for some reason are not accepted by a majority. People for whom total transparency can be a lethal risk.

If you are part of a minority, you can seldom be totally transparent with what you are doing and what you are feeling and expressing. As long as a majority does not totally accept minorities, secrecy in itself is a treasure. Secrets something to hold on to. Transparency breeds uniformity, the following of rules. Often this is something good, but sometimes it is bad. Uniformity and rules are seldom compatible with everyone.

Cage for reviving canary, with oxygen cylinder, made by Siebe Gorman & Co. Ltd, London. Photographed 3/4 view on a white background.

The early alerters are the canaries in the mine, warning also the majority about an invisible risk that is evolving in the atmosphere. A risk that is invisible to the ones without the involuntary abilities of the early alerters. We should not consider early adopters as trail-blazing heroes without also recognising and listening to early alerters.

[1] Rogers, Everett (1962). Diffusion of Innovation. Free Press of Glencoe.