The laggard manifesto
I adopt new technologies slowly, often not at all before the trend passes. If you’ve ever thrown away something you felt youÂ needed when you bought it and now can’t give away, I believe you’ll find doing so helps you enjoy life more. If you know that the middle of the Pacific, thousands of miles from land, has garbage polluting it, I suggest you consider slowing your adoption too.
I’m not afraid of new technology. I helped build an x-ray observational satellite that’s orbiting the Earth. I helped build neutrino detectors. I teach entrepreneurship to engineers. As a kid I bought an Apple 2e as soon as I could save up the money. I have six patents and built million-dollar displays with teams of engineers I hired. With a PhD in physics, I can understand many technologies as well or better than many.
So if I can understand and use new technology, why do I choose not to? Why do I suggest others consider slowing their adoption?
Things that endure improve lives more. I find more benefit from learning millenia-old ideas from Aristotle, Laozi, or pick-your-time-tested-person than the latest gadget from Steve Jobs or Bill Gates who sell distractions to make themselves rich. They aren’t interested in helping you become happy. If you were happy you wouldn’t need their stuff.
Meanwhile we pollute our air and water with producing these distractions and fill our landfills with their carcasses.
Living in New York City lets you see a lot of technology adoption cycles. It has a high population density including a lot of people trying new things. Advertisers make sure you know about their latest things.
Let’s take a recent cycle. When computer tablets came out, subways suddenly became packed with people using them. Where people used to read books, magazines, and newspapers, everyone had a tablet. The same thing had happened with Walkmen and mp3 players in generations before.
You still see people using tablets on the subway now, but not nearly in the numbers they did then. Same with mp3 players: you see a lot of people with earphones, but a lot less than the peak. I’m writing this post because I noticed a lot of people reading books, magazines, and newspapers the other day.
Why did millions of people buy new technologies and then stop using them? I’d bet a lot of them thought, “This tablet will transform my commute from boring to fun. I can read books, watch TV, watch movies, play games, email, and so on. I can’t wait.”
Then what happened?
I’m sure many of their lives transformed and they loved their purchases. Many others probably found uses for the tablets that I can’t see from the subway that I’m missing.
For the rest, which, going by what I see, is most of them, spent money for something that didn’t meet their expectations. Books, periodicals, and other centuries-old technologies—many free—met their needs better. For many, having nothing met their needs better than a tablet computer. Still, they spent hundreds to thousands of dollars on them and their accessories.
Many people reading this are probably thinking, “I love using my tablet. Even if I don’t use it all the time, it’s still useful. Josh doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
If it’s useful, but not revolutionary, then it affects your life but not overwhelmingly. What’s the loss in adopting the technology later, after they’ve worked out the bugs, found its uses, competition has led to improvements, and you’ve heard why people use it?
“But I like trying new things. I like being on the cutting edge,” you might say. This perspective distracts people from what they consider important. People who could sit contentedly for a subway ride feel they need music they never needed before. They look externally to solve internal issues like boredom.
You can create joy, fun, novelty, or other feelings without depending on others and supporting pollution. Many people spend more money than they can afford when advertising confuses them into unnecessary purchases. Our economy shifts to depend on producing waste.
If you feel you need some latest gadget that never existed before, I recommend reconsidering the values motivating you feeling that need. Did those values come from yourself advertisers paid to sell you something? How many latest gadgets do you still use years later? How many devices you struggled to afford did you throw away, dismayed at how you couldn’t sell it if you tried?
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