Technology Lifecycles and Digital Technologies: Patterns of Discourse across Levels of Materiality
Gal U, Berente N, Chasin F
The technology lifecycle model is extensively used to study technology evolution and innovation. However, this model was developed for industrial-age material technologies and does not address digital technologies with nonmaterial elements. Therefore, a question emerges as to whether the level of technological materiality is implicated in different dynamics of innovation, as reflected in the technology lifecycle. Digital technologies evolve through discourse that involves interactions among multiple stakeholders that shape the evolutionary trajectory of the technology. Therefore, we set out to examine whether discourse about digital technologies that vary in their level of materiality manifests in different ways throughout these technologies’ lifecycles. To do so, we conducted a study comparing the discourse around 10 digital technologies—five highly material and five highly nonmaterial—at different stages of their technology lifecycles. We identified three characteristics of discourse—volume, volatility, and diversity—and examined them for the 10 digital technologies by analyzing their corresponding Wikipedia articles. Our findings show that the discourse around technologies with different levels of materiality is similar in the initial era of the lifecycle but diverges in the two subsequent eras. In addition, we found that the discourse around highly nonmaterial technologies remains elevated for longer time periods, compared to highly material technologies. Based on these results, we put forth propositions that challenge and extend existing research on the relationships between the technological level of materiality, discourse, and trajectories of technology evolution.