For all the hi-tech, 2.0, social, interconnected, GPSd, geo-tagged, app this & app ideas that many of us are developing in the work intersections between anthropology and design, it never stops putting a smile on my face when I’m reminded how Old World technologies and media resist – or have yet to be barely challenged by – Innovation Erosion.

Innovation Erosion is the slow process by which new, sometimes disruptive products chip away at old habits and patterns of use. Like the effects of wind, water, ice and gravity, its rate of progress depends on a number of human-environment factors: how much we want something new, if that something new actually fills an unmet or unarticulated need, the extent to which we are comfortable with new gizmos and social styles in our lives, and a host of design, usability, costing and marketing factors that play into whether or not that something new ‘fits’ into our lives.

Two clear examples – cell phones and computers. Both started off big and clunky, ugly, expensive and glitchy. For a long time, most people lived full, socially connected lives without them. With time, erosive phenomena like lower costs, sexier design, a little smart marketing, and a born-into generation changed that for all but the most stubborn, some of the very old and, to some extent, people like me.

I might be among the most stubborn. I like to think of it as being a one-man mujahideen against new stuff just for the sake of being a one-man mujahideen against new stuff. My boss at Idea Couture likes to jokingly remind our one-room HQ of usability specialists, human factors people, strategists, designers, experience architects, interaction architects and others that Morgan doesn’t do Excel, ignores Google calendar invites, regularly tells Power Point to “Die! Fucking die!” and – this is his favourite one – uses paper (mine is the desk with stacks of scribbled notes from ethnographies, anthropology texts, rapid prototyping sessions, webites, phone calls, to-do lists and meetings). I have reasons for doing and not doing those things, and they’re much the same as why I’ve given away the iPods I’ve received (I can plug into my MacBook Pro at work for iTunes, I like hearing the street when I’m on it, and I like battling the radio to find something good in the car), still haven’t opened that NikeRun thing they gave me (Run? Are you kidding me?) and signed up for Twitter but used it only two or three times (Like I give a shit what you’re doing on the hour every hour). Quite simply, I can do without these innovations.

And don’t even get me started on cell phones – especially one’s with the iron-clad, overpriced contracts we bear like an albatross in Canada. I’ve had lots of cell phones and tossed every one but the one I’ve got now, an LG Touch that my boss graced my desk with a couple of weeks ago. I asked to not get a Blackberry because I’m happy with the place (and time) email has in my life as it is. But, as Jan Chipcase notes in a recent essay, convergence is the new erosion. The LG Touch has email along with a host of other apps – including his semi-analysed Airplane Mode, none of which I’ve explored or activated. I know I’m probably alone in thinking along these lines of backwards socio-tech engineering, but I’m thinking of registering on GoDaddy.

If all this sounds antithetical to the world of anthropology and design, think again. I can’t tell you how many people in the field I’ve met or read online who are so enmeshed in keeping up with the latest and greatest in innovation that, when it comes time to get into the field to explore the relationships between people, culture new products and services, come out like they’re the new spin on anthropology’s colonial past – it’s like they’re looking down on the primitives who have yet to discover just how improved their lives could be with a little Twitter or fresh-smelling Fabreeze in their lives. And when it comes to ethnographies on the super tech savvy, don’t get me wrong – I know the new and use it more than I let on in the office or here.

Which brings me to the photo above, my most recent stumbling upon of just how slow Innovation Erosion is: the map. During a recent ethnography jaunt to London, England I stayed near Victoria Station. Disclaimer: it’s where thousands of tourists pour from by the hour. Nonetheless, the number of fold-out, giant paper maps got me to thinking about just how slow wireless hand-held map apps are in reaching most consumers.

Maybe it’s cost. On a recent field trip to Ontario’s Niagara wine region with one of my bosses, my designer and my experience architect, we were in such a rush to choose a restaurant and consult over which wines we wanted to drink that none of us had the address of where we were actually supposed to be going. Thanks to GPS on the BlackBerry, we found our way. But the boss realized, after guiding us for 10 minutes or so, that the roaming charges being racked up were probably astronomical.

Observing the thousands of tourists pouring out of Victoria Station for 8 days during smoke breaks from my non-smoking hotel, I didn’t see anyone staring at a phone to direct them wherever. Yes, there were dozens of Google Map print-outs, but that’s still paper.

Obviously, there’s innovation exploration still to be done in the white space between getting from here to there in a foreign city. Until then, people seem pretty comfortable with their ancient media.