Back in the ‘80s, I was in sales -- semiconductor sales. All the heavy hitters had car phones. It was a real status symbol. Then Panasonic got innovative and came out with a modular design where you could unplug the handset from your car, plug it into what looked like a big old desktop phone cradle that was mostly battery, and carry the whole thing around.
All told it weighed about 10 pounds, but that was light compared to the 20-pound Toshiba laptop I lugged around to give customer presentations. I know that sounds ridiculously impractical by today’s standards, but it was state of the art back then so we coughed up a small fortune and wrote it off as a business expense.
In business, it often makes sense to have the latest and greatest technology. Once you get far enough down the learning curve, it can really pay off in a big way. Of course, corporate IT managers always want to wait to ensure platforms and standards are stable. In many ways, they’ve got the right idea.
Consumers can stand to learn a thing or two from IT folks.
For consumers, being an early adopter of new technology never pays off. And I mean never. Unless you’re in the biz or it’s a hobby and you can afford the time and money, it’s always a bad idea. A sucker bet. Sorry to say, but in this day and age when so many people just have to have the latest and greatest everything, there sure seem to be an awful lot of suckers out there.
The truth is that keeping up with new technology is expensive, time consuming, and frustrating in more ways than you realize. And the perceived benefits rarely improve your life in any material way. It’s just peer pressure. Still not convinced? Here are five reasons why being an early adopter of technology products is a really bad idea.
Technology gets cheaper over time. Whatever you’re in the market for – homes, cars, gardening supplies, laundry detergent or chewing gum – I guarantee it costs more or, best case, the same over time. Not tech products. Technology is the only category of products that actually come down in price over time. Not only that, you get way more features and better performance for less over time. You can’t beat that.
It’s full of bugs and incredibly frustrating. Thirty years ago, when something didn’t work right we said, “It’s broken” and took it back. Today, we buy broken things all the time. It’s called software and it’s inside every gadget you buy. We pay big bucks for the privilege of dealing with all the bugs and wasting our precious time downloading fixes and upgrades. I have this old Samsung Blue-Ray disc player I got when it came out. God knows how many firmware updates later, it still doesn’t work right.
Most of it never achieves mainstream adoption. Remember 8-track tape? Backup tape drives for your PC? How about Sony Betamax, IBM PCjr, NEC TurboGrafx-16, Sharp Wizard, Palm Pilot, and Apple Newton? I can go on and on but the truth is that half the stuff you buy never achieves any traction and, after spending hours and hours learning to use it and buying all sorts of add-ons, just ends up collecting dust.
Hot social media sites and apps usually flame out. Even if it’s free, you invest a ludicrous amount of time getting set up and established with all sorts of sites and applications that seem to catch fire but flame out in no-time. Remember del.icio.us. Friendster. Digg. Yes, I know some of them are trying to make a comeback. Don’t they all? Yawn.
You miss the real “next big thing.” Some technology products are really pricey. Others are permanently or semi-permanently installed in your car or home. Isn’t it always the case that, as soon you pull the trigger, the next big thing comes out and makes your huge investment obsolete? I had a smart home system with proprietary controllers installed when I built my house years ago. Wish I’d known that Apple iOS and Google Android devices were coming before I did that.
Look, I know the peer pressure to buy new gadgets and keep up with technology is powerful. I get that. But the truth is, when it comes to technology, being an early adopter will cost you in terms of money, time, frustration, opportunity cost – all sorts of ways that most of us simply can’t afford. It just isn’t worth it.
So next time there’s something you just have to have, just give it a little time. It won’t kill you. Wait and see how things shake out. It’ll be worth the wait, guaranteed.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.