First Click: I hate being an early adopter

October 26th, 2016


This week we celebrated the 15th anniversary of the iPod. I owned the original, receiving the $399 MP3 player as a gift from my very generous parents on Christmas day 2001, just two months after it went on sale. It only synced music over FireWire and only to iTunes which caused me to run out and spend $2,000 or so on a new PowerMac G4 and monitor. To me it was logical to spend five times the price of the iPod in order to be one of the first to use the newest gadget. That is my sickness.

Hello, my name is Thomas Ricker and I am an early adopter.

My condition is so bad that the iPod wasn’t even my first MP3 player. A year earlier I bought a $269 Rio 500 from Diamond Multimedia with a massive 64MBs of onboard storage and an optional 32MB memory card costing an additional $99.

I have my father to blame for my condition. He was a civilian engineer working on a myriad of Cold War communications projects, usually steeped in absolute secrecy. Weekends with dad meant spending a lot of time sifting through bins of resistors and capacitors at the local Radio Shack. It also meant growing up with the first home gaming console (Pong), the first handheld scientific calculator (the HP-35), and one of the first mass-produced home computers (the Apple ][). Hell, when I think back, I’m pretty sure we were one of the first families with a microwave — one so early it came with a radiation warning.

Maybe you share my affliction? Did you buy one of those early Xbox 360 consoles plagued by the red ring of death, or the first MacBook Air that laughed in the face of value-for-money? Or maybe you still buy games knowing full well you shouldn’t start playing them until after the first patches arrive? Or perhaps you were burned, quite literally, by a Galaxy Note 7? Don’t worry, I feel your pain.

Many early adopters have been drawn to Kickstarter and Indiegogo, crowdfunding sites that prey upon our lack of impulse control and that primal desire every toddler knows: I want a new toy! Usually it works out, but sometimes those bold promises about Android gaming consoles and high-tech coolers fail to deliver on the expectations generated by the millions raised in pledges — or worse, they deliver nothing at all.

Why do we do this? Are early adopters masochists who get off on the humiliation of paying too much just to beta test products for companies? Not exactly, at least not according to researchers.

Forrester Research study concluded that early adopters are driven by three things: novelty, information, and status. Our desire to experience something first is fraught with risk which we try to mitigate through research. That’s one reason you keep coming back to sites like The Verge and why The New York Times just spent more than $30 million to purchase The Wirecutter reviews site. We early adopters then take pride in showing off our purchases to the world, sometimes fanatically defending their flaws as vigorously as we’d defend ourselves.

Google’s Sundar Pichai, a man who had early access to Google Home, Google Wi-Fi, and the Google Pixel, told my colleague Lauren Goode that he leaves his prototypes at work each night in order to keep his home life simple. And when I think about it, I’m becoming more like Pichai every day. Last year I decided to forego the Apple Watch (or any smartwatch) because I’m trying to live a life with fewer distractions, not more. I haven’t bought a VR headset and my TV doesn’t support 4K resolutions or HDR because I know I can wait a few months for costs to go down and content availability to improve. Last month I decided to skip my usual tick-tock iPhone purchasing cycle by sticking with my two-year old iPhone 6 for another year. See, I’m trying real hard to live more simply and smartly and that starts with understanding the difference between want and need.

Although I’m really liking the looks of the new MacBook Pro coming out tomorrow.

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