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Confessions of a Late Adopter

Confessions of a Late Adopter
Confessions of a Late Adopter

    I love gadgets, I really do. But unlike your typical fanboy or -girl who can be found standing in line at Best Buy or the Apple Store days before a new product’s release, I’m more likely to be found trolling the aisles of the local thrift store, surfing eBay, or scrounging through the clearance bins at Office Max looking for my gadget fix. I’d like to say it’s merely economic, and that’s part of it, but the reality is this (cue dramatic music):

    I’m a late adopter.

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    Like I said, I love gadgets. I’m the go-to guy for any tech-related questions in my family, and carry a few pounds of silicon-and-LED goodness on my person at all times. The thing is, the shiny new gadget I’m oohing and aahing over is liable to be a year out two out of date.

    Why is that, I hear you ask? There are a few of good reasons I can think of to refrain from buying the latest thing, and even to buy one or more generations removed from a company’s current line-up.

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    • Cost: The most obvious reason to “buy old” is cost. Once an item has been replaced by a more up-to-date product, its price drops significantly. If I can get it used (which in the case of gadgets often means “kept in a drawer for three years and forgotten about”) I can save even more. I can’t usually justify the price of new gizmos to fulfill my gadget-lust, but I can usually spare the eBay price a year or two later.
    • Bugs: New products, especially when they break new ground, are often riddled with problems; waiting to buy lets the manufacturers and the forums and the howto sites catch up with fixes, patches, and workarounds.
    • Hacks: Users often find ways to add new functions to gadgets that the manufacturers never dreamed of. But new software, new uses for old software, sometimes entirely new operating systems take time to be developed. For example, there’s a version of Linux you can install on an iPod, but it has to be an older-generation iPod. (In fact, it seems that every gadget gets its own version of Linux after about 2 years. Call it Dustin’s Law.)

    Let me offer a couple of examples. The best laptop I ever had was a Compaq Armada 4200 I bought for my ex. (She wasn’t my ex at the time.) I bought it about 3 or 4 years old for around $200, with a trackball mouse (I hate trackpads), 32 MB memory and a 6 gig hard drive, running Windows 95. More than enough juice for the word processing and Internet surfing she did. Plus it was less than a foot wide and about an inch thick, and the battery doubled as a carrying handle. I liked playing with hers so much I bought another one for myself. Then I bought another one for her friend, and another for her parents.

    Here’s another example: I’m writing this post on an AlphaSmart 3000 I picked up in a thrift store over the summer for $20.00. The AlphaSmart is essentially a stand-alone keyboard with a 4-line, black-on-grey LCD screen and a little memory. You type stuff in, connect it to a PC with a USB cable, hit “send” and it literally types your document into whatever program you’ve opened on the computer. Intended for use in elementary schools, the AlphaSmart is small, light, tough as heck, ultra-simple, and it runs forever on 3 AA batteries. It’s the ultimate “monotasker”; it does one thing and one thing only, and because of that, it’s a favorite tool of writers who want the ability to write anywhere without the distractions and power demands of a laptop.

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    On the other hand, I bought my Treo 680 the week it was released. I’ve always been a late adopter with my Palms, from my first Palm IIIe bought as a closeout in 2000 to my Handspring Visor bought on eBay to my Treo 180 (also bought on eBay). I did buy a Zire 72 when they were still on the market, breaking the late-adoption pattern and setting a bad precedent — I had few problems with the Zire and thought Palm could pull it off again with the Treo 680.

    I was wrong. The 680 has been plagued with problems — poor battery life, weird phone behavior, coming on by itself at apparently random times, and so on. Some of these problems have been addressed, though nothing has made it live up to the promise that made me a Palm user in 2000. If I’d waited, I would have seen the forum postings and the blog articles that panned the unit — even as it was getting positive reviews from the standard tech sites. I’d have seen the near-total silence on Palm’s part as its users grew more and more vocally outraged about the faults that made using the Treo 680 so unpleasant. In short, I’d have bought something else and saved the $200.

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    Bill Maher recently joked that the iPhone’s early adopters, the folks who paid through the nose for their phones only to see the price dropped 2 months later, had paid a “nerd tax” for the privilege of showing off their shiny new gadgets before anyone else could get their hands on one. I’m not a nerd tax kind of guy, I guess — I don’t really care if my gadget belt makes others green with envy, so long as my tools do the job I need them to do. My feeling is that whatever gadget I’m looking at worked well enough a year or two ago, so unless the newest version is a revolutionary advance that offers me a must-have function that nobody else is offering, why not go with the older version?

    Look at iPods — a few years ago, folks were crazy over their iPods with photo capability. The devices themselves haven’t changed just because newer ones came out that play video or have wifi — they do the same job just as well today as they did then. If I want a quality device that plays music and maybe shows a picture or two, why wouldn’t I go with the old one?

    In the end, I suppose I’m advocating that we look away from the promises marketers make and think more deeply about what we need our gadgets to do. The folks who make this stuff have a lot invested in coaxing a new purchase out of us every year or so, but my needs — and probably yours — don’t actually change that much, that quickly. This isn’t to say I never buy anything new, but I think carefully about whether I can fill the same need with an older, cheaper device. It’s not settling — I don’t accept less than what I need. But I decide what those needs are, not a manufacturer or marketer who’s made a place for me in their fiscal planning.

    And that’s the point — know your needs and meet them as efficiently as possible. A lot of gadgets seem to be designed as an end in themselves — you don’t use them, they use you. Knowing what your needs are — whether as a professional in your field of work or as an individual desiring some form of entertainment or whatever your case may be — well enough to select the right tools might well lead you to be first in line at a launch-day event, but that’s a considered choice. Which is a world of difference from being there just because it’s new, and new must be good, right? Often, older isn’t only good enough, it’s better.

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    Last Updated on November 5, 2019

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

    But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

    Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

    1. Always Have a Book

    It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

    Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

    2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

    We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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    Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

    3. Get More Intellectual Friends

    Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

    Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

    4. Guided Thinking

    Albert Einstein once said,

    “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

    Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

    5. Put it Into Practice

    Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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    If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

    In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

    6. Teach Others

    You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

    Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

    7. Clean Your Input

    Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

    I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

    Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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    8. Learn in Groups

    Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

    Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

    9. Unlearn Assumptions

    You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

    Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

    Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

    10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

    Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

    Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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    11. Start a Project

    Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

    If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

    12. Follow Your Intuition

    Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

    Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

    13. The Morning Fifteen

    Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

    If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

    14. Reap the Rewards

    Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

    15. Make Learning a Priority

    Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

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    Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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