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Surprising Science

How to Be a Smart Adopter

Ask around, and you may hear people describe me as an early adopter of new technology. I’ve never thought of myself as one, though. For every bandwagon I’ve hopped onto before most folks, there are others I’ve delayed joining as long as possible.

No, I think of myself as a smart adopter: Someone who buys new technology at the right time for me–which can be bizarrely early, surprisingly late, or somewhere in the middle. Here are a few tips to consider as you consider just how early you want to adopt new products, services and technologies:   

Ask real early adopters what they think. I’m not discounting the information provided by professional product reviewers-hey, I’m one myself. But if you’re considering buying a bleeding-edge gizmo, start by seeking advice from folks who invested their own money and time in it. If you can’t find anyone who’ll give it a glowing recommendation, move on.   

Peer into the future. Even the best pieces of technology are going to get replaced by something that’s better (and probably cheaper. When the first iPhone came out in 2007 and didn’t have high-speed data, it was profoundly obvious that it would be replaced by a 3G model within a year or so, so I waited. And I’ve spurned Blu-Ray to date in part because I think that digital downloads of movies will replace shiny discs of all sorts well before the end of the first Obama administration.   

Be wary of the box+service equation. Small companies launch gadgets that are dependent on accompanying services all the time. Their mortality rate is so high that buying such devices is inherently risky–if the service goes away, you’ve got yourself a doorstop. Smart adopters wait until new boxes show signs of success before signing up.   

Invest in gear you already own. Reinvigorating a device can be just as rewarding as replacing it, and it’s likely to be a lot cheaper. Recently, I was awfully tempted to buy a pricey new digital SLR. Instead, I bought a couple of reasonably-priced lenses for the one I already have. Result: It feels like a whole new camera. 

Ask yourself if you’re willing to troubleshoot. When it comes to software, I’m sometimes a ludicrously early adopter: I’ve been known to install new versions of Windows and Office on my primary computer when Microsoft has specifically advised against doing so. That’s in part because I get a kick out of figuring out solutions to the problems that almost always crop up. But if I didn’t like fixing things, I’d postpone my upgrades until other people had discovered and resolved the worst initial glitches.   

Look for timesavers. The best new products of all are those that make your day more enjoyable by letting you accomplish tasks more quickly. (That’s why I paid big bucks for a DVR back before most people had ever heard of TiVo.) And some of the worst ones are those that claim to do something worthwhile but in fact end up complicating your life. (I may be a smart adopter, but I’d love to get all the hours back that I’ve wasted wrestling with gadgets that just weren’t worth the effort.)   

Have fun. Almost nothing in the world of tech is worth doing if it brings you stress rather than pleasure. If you get viscerally excited by the notion of using a new gadget–as I did when I bought a car equipped with GPS navigation in 2004–you might love it even if it isn’t perfect. If you can’t figure out whether you’d enjoy it or not, it’s a sign that you should wait.   

Never apologize. I’ve had folks make fun of me for buying into new product categories too early; I’ve had the same people snark at me for moving slowly on other fronts. And that’s okay. The point of of technology isn’t to impress anyone else; it’s to make you happy and productive. In other words: March to your own tech drummer. 


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