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Last year, Facebook changed its user interface. The adjustments were relatively minor and there were only a few glitches in implementation, and these were resolved very quickly. However, the hostility expressed by Facebook’s user community was nothing less than hyperbolic.
Searchenginejournal.com characterized Facebook’s new interface as a “nightmare” for users. An ocean of tweets, many too obscene to be reproduced here, reflected a sense of utter devastation that was wildly out of proportion to the inconvenience caused by Facebook.
Dr. Kevin Craig is Assistant Professor in Systems and Technology at the Harbert College.
As a researcher and computer programmer, the Facebook situation captures my imagination and challenges me to look at technology from its users’ point of view. Technological changes are an imposition of power by those who own the systems we all use to get through life. People get angry when companies like Facebook force them to change how they communicate with the wider world. My job is to understand this anger and help people and companies cope with change.
Changes to technology are implemented to benefit those who own the technology. Whether those changes benefit the people who use the technology is another matter.
When Facebook implements a change that furthers its own ends without buy-in from users, it is not merely inconveniencing its customers, it is inexplicably forcing them to change how they interact with friends and family. This is especially cruel during a pandemic, when online interaction is often the only interaction available. Thus, the new interface communicates a clear, perhaps unintended, message from Facebook to its users: “We are powerful, you are not, and we do not care if you like what we do.”
So what should companies like Facebook do, according to academics like me? Research indicates that people accept change when it is accompanied by honesty. When companies explain why they are undertaking change, they encounter much less hostility. People are willing to accept changes, even those that mostly benefit others, as long as they understand the reasoning behind those changes. Research, decency and common sense support honesty and transparency during technological change.
As a researcher, I’ve been able to observe and explain resistance to technological change. By the standards of academia, I’ve done my job. However, judging from Facebook’s most recent interface change, I and others like me need to do a much better job of communicating our findings to those who can make a difference in the real world.
Dr. Kevin Craig is Assistant Professor in Systems and Technology at the Harbert College of Business. He has worked for more than 10 years as a software developer and project manager before working toward his PhD in information systems. His research interests include resistance to technology, how stereotypes affect workplace communication and career choices, and how identity-related factors such as culture and social group affiliation impact technology use.