I’m a comments section junkie. Out of the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of articles I’ve scoured as a futurist, I spent more time studying the comments than I did the actual articles.
Today I read an article on IFLS with tons of comments. People were generally confused by how the train would work. Not good PR.
It made me wonder: at what stage in an emerging technology’s development should it be unveiled?
My conclusion? Only after it’s polished. You want oohs and ahhs. Not ehhs.
IFLS Is a Public Sentiment Petri Dish
Having a whopping 15 million Facebook followers, IFLS is an excellent tool for futurists like me. When they post about an emerging technology to their followers, I read through peoples’ responses carefully. I do this to get insight into how technology might later be received by the global market. Will people readily accept the idea? Will they be inherently suspicious?
The IFLS article introduced “super-maglev” trains. In essence, it’s magnetic levitation—combined with a vacuum tube. The prototype’s developers at Southwest Jiaotong University theorize that it could reach speeds of 1,800 mph. Tech-savvy and futurist circles have known about this for awhile. I wrote about it in 2012. Actually, I think my design is more realistic. 🙂
But back to the IFLS comments, and what my analysis uncovered.
Here’s what people generally felt in response to super-maglev:
Specifically, people don’t get the train’s design. Sure, they’re not designers or engineers. But you don’t have to be college-educated to recognize beautiful or shoddy design when you see it! And the prototype of this train, however much it took to build, is obviously a work in progress.
Southwest Jiaotong University unveiled too early. They don’t get that people won’t know or accept that this is not the final product. Why? People resist using their imagination. It’s a phenomenon that I attribute to conditioning in middle school and high school.
Peoples’ comments implied questions like:
How will the vacuum actually work on the train to pull it forward? The prototype appears as if it would subject passengers to the vacuum as well as internal wind. What are the health implications?
And the train looks like a rollercoaster, raising doubts about its safety. Rollercoasters are terrifying enough at 100mph. Would you go 1,800mph seated in one of these?
Yeah, I get it, this is a prototype. The polished product (assuming it gets that far) will probably be a thing of beauty. But the public doesn’t see that.
Tech Developers, Beware
Think twice about unveiling your product before it’s polished. These days, people are well-equipped to communicate their doubt or fervor. If you want your product to succeed, you’ll need their support.
At your unveiling, you want oohs and ahhs.
If you not sure which reception you’ll get, it’s too early to unveil.