“Dunder Mifflin Infinity”-Everett’s Diffusion of Innovations
Creed: “Are you listening to what he’s saying? Retraining, new system, youth. I’m telling you, this kid is the grim reaper. You deal with this, or you, me, Sammy, Phyllis, the chick you hit with a car… we’re goners.”
The season 4 episode, “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” is a great episode to feature clashes between generations and technology. The premise is that Ryan, who was once the temp and youngest member of the office at Scranton, now has Jan’s old job as boss over all of the branches, including Michael’s. The reason he was chosen was to bring new, fresh ideas to Dunder Mifflin. They want to make the company more efficient and up-to-date.
This transition comes with its share of conflict. Almost all of the office employees, especially the older ones, are resistant to the change. Ryan issues new Blackberries to every employee and offers to teach them how to use them. He also initiates the era of Dunder Mifflin Infinity, where the company will have a web site that customers can order from. Ryan claims that the whole change is meant to be “younger, faster, and more efficient.”
When Jan comes to visit Michael, she has an awkward confrontation with Ryan. She then goes on to tell Michael that these new initiatives are crossing into the prejudice of ageism. As Michael does his research, he concludes that “new ideas are fine, but they are also illegal…it turns out you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Michael is one of the many older employees who is very uncomfortable with the changes. We even get a glimpse of Stanley and Phyllis complaining about the small buttons on their Blackberries and wondering why they can’t just use phones. This resistance exemplifies Everett Roger’s Diffusion of Innovations theory (1962). Roger’s theory discusses the fact that a person’s perceived choice in an “Innovation-Decision” (the decision to change to/adopt a new form of technology) impacts his or her attitude toward the new technology. The theory states that there are three different types of “Innovation-Decisions,”
- Optional Innovation-Decision is when a decision is made by an individual who is in some way different from others in the group, for example someone who has more experience or has a certain title or position.
- Collective Innovation-Decision is when a decision is made collectively by all individuals of a group.
- Authority Innovation-Decision is when a decision is made for the entire group by a few individuals in positions of power.
Dunder-Mifflin’s decision, in this case, is an Authority Innovation-Decision, as corporate, mainly Ryan, has made the decision for the changes without consulting the branches or managers.
In Diffusion of Innovations theory, Rogers also categorizes five stages of adjusting to new ideas: awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption. As this episode proves, some people do not even get passed the stage of awareness. As the episode progresses, Michael tries to prove these new technological advances as obsolete by going on a mission to win back clients they had lost. His method is giving them gift baskets. As he finds out, however, the clients are more interested in lowering costs and raising functionality, even to the point where Michael ends up using the new web site as a selling point, forcing him to adopt the new idea.
While on the mission, Michael is using a GPS in his car. He ends up taking a wrong turn and driving into a lake, giving him another excuse to blame technology. When he makes it back to the office in his dirty, wet clothes he tells Ryan about what happened and says, “You can have your technology…look where it got us.”
At the end of the episode we find Ryan extremely frustrated with his visit to Scranton. This frustration continues for a few more episodes as he tries to teach the branch new things, including teaching Michael to use PowerPoint and having a Dunder Mifflin Infinity kick-off party purely by having branch managers communicate using a web cam. Jim even confronts Ryan in a later episode saying that this advancement in technology may actually hurt business, because Dunder Mifflin’s biggest asset is their personal touch and customer service.
Most of the changes do not end up being implemented because (spoiler alert) Ryan eventually gets sent to prison for company fraud. This time, the old-fashioned way of doing things actually won, but little is known about how long this resistance will last. In the latest season (the 6th), Dunder Mifflin has to resort to being bought out and selling printers rather than paper to keep the business afloat, which is just another example of technology growing and taking over whether you accept it or not. Michael, on the other hand, prizes the value of human interaction.
Michael: “Everyone always wants new things. Everybody likes new inventions, new technology. People will never be replaced by machines. In the end, life and business are about human connections. And computers are about trying to murder you in a lake.
Rogers, E. M. (1962). Diffusion of Innovations. Glencoe: Free Press.