According to Guns, Germs, and Steel, what four reasons influence the acceptance of new inventions?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The answer to this question can be found in Chapter 13 of the book.  Specifically, it is found on pages 247 through 249 of the paperback edition.  As you say, there are four factors that affect whether a new technology will be accepted.  They are:

  • How much better the new technology is compared to the old.  If a new technology is way more useful than something that you have been using, you will accept it.  If it is only marginally better, you are less likely to do so. 
  • The social value or prestige of the old technology.  Sometimes, old technologies are simply perceived to be better or more prestigious than the new ones.  Diamond gives the example of the Japanese writing system, in which you need to memorize about 2,000 characters to be literate enough to, for example, read a newspaper.  Japan has not gone to using the Roman alphabet or even its own simpler kana syllabary because the characters are seen as prestigious.
  • Whether there are vested interests that support the old technology.  If the old technology is really important to powerful people, Diamond says, the new technology is less likely to be adopted.  He gives the example of how British cities kept gas lights for a long time because they had invested in gas lighting technology and did not want to lose the value of their investments.
  • How obvious the advantages of the new technology are.  I would argue that this is very similar to the first factor, but Diamond separates them.  He says that if the benefits of the new technology are obvious, it will be adopted whereas it will not be if the advantages are hard to discern.
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