Toward an Understanding of "Weak Signals" of Technological Change and Innovation in the Internet Industry
Noriega Velasco, Julio
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Identifying the emergence and development of new technologies has become an essential ability for firms competing in dynamic environments. Nonetheless, current technology intelligence practices are unstructured and vaguely defined. Moreover, the existing literature in future technology studies lacks strong, systematic explanations of what technologies are, where technologies come from, and how new technologies emerge and evolve. The present study builds on Structuration Theory, and proposes the structurational model of emerging technologies (SMET). The SMET suggests not only an ongoing view of technologies as social objects, but also a process for thinking through scientifically the complex, multidimensional and emergent dynamic of social and technological change. The SMET proposes that the emergence and development of a new technology can be tracked by examining systematically and collectively the extent of development of its technology-related social structure – its degree of structuration. The degree of structuration of a technology is an ongoing process instantiated in social practices, and can be observed through visible patterns or specific social outcomes of systemic activity organized in three analytical dimensions: structures of meaning, power, and legitimacy. The SMET assumes that the conceptual initiation of a new technology triggers new patterns of social activity or a signal of technological change; thus, the variation in the slope or trajectory of the degree of structuration of a technology may indicate an early signal of technological change. The SMET sets a foundation for identifying early signals of technological change when it is used on a systematic basis. Empirically, the study conducted an exploratory case study in the Internet industry. The study employed a sequential transformative mixed method procedure, and relied on 77 Internet experts to create retrospectively a systematic and collective interpretation of the Internet industry in the last ten (10) years. The test of hypotheses was based on only seven (7) Internet technologies due to time and instrumental constraints. The results confirm the fundamental relationships among constructs in the model, and support, thus, the SMET. The degree of structuration of a technology is revealed as a process independent of individuals’ participation in the enactment of a technology. Technological outcomes are explained by the extent of development of structures of meaning, power, and legitimacy (i.e., the degree of structuration of a technology). Moreover, influential technological outcomes shape individuals’ perspectives over time – i.e., the structurational effect. Hence, the study not only provides evidence that supports this novel theoretical framework, but also illustrates methodologically how to identify the emergence and development of new technologies. Likewise, the study discusses the implications of these results for technology management practices (e.g., product and technology development, innovation policies, and technology transfer activities). Lastly, the study recognizes limitations and suggests further research avenues.
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