Be Slow

When it comes to the things we spend our time and money on—things like the media we consume, the gadgets we buy, and even ideas in which we believe—we have a natural attraction for the new.

A man celebrating after he purchased the newest iPhone.
A man celebrating after he purchased the newest iPhone.

What is this lure that new things have? We've all seen it. There must be an evolutionary explanation for the fact that merely stating that something is new will cause people to pay more attention to it.

There's a good chance that the bias we have for newness is a misdirected feature of our human nature. Could it be that a part of our behaviour that is crucial to our survival in one context, is being exploited by companies in another context in pursuit of growth?

We are evolved creatures. Our evolutionary drive is responsible for the best things about us and the worst things about us. The very same parameter that makes a mother love her children makes people commit genocide.

And that means that you are going to have to pick which things that evolution would have you do are honorable, and which things you wish to reject...because your humanity tells you that you are more than an evolutionary robot.

– Bret Weinstein, The Waking Up Podcast #109 – Biology and Culture

Companies understand that when they add new features to their products, interest and sales will increase. News outlets know that breaking stories get the most eyeballs, so they focus on quantity over quality. The same rules apply to social networks and the effect of notifications.

More new stuff = more attention = more money.

Unfortunately, for many people indulging in new things is a vehicle for procrastination.

Procrastination isn't the only bad effect of our addiction to new things. We risk wasting our time when we respond to every push notification. We risk making an expensive mistake when we rush to buy the newest gizmo.

If you're a developer, you've probably seen how a sexy new framework can cause otherwise rational developers to make regrettable decisions.

Web frameworks that were all the hype when they came out, but they quickly became uncool.
Web frameworks that were all the hype when they came out, but they quickly became uncool.

Fortunately there's a feature built into society that rewards those who don't rush towards the new, and instead wait for the best things to come to them.

Richard Dawkins already demonstrated that this phenomenon occurs with meme theory. To quote from Wikipedia...

A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural >analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.

Some things spread because people tend to remember what we like and forget about what we don't. This causes certain ideas to persist in culture for as long as they're relevant, while the irrelevant or unsuccessful ideas will fade away into the past.

New stuff is high risk because it doesn't have qualitative information encoded within it. When something is new it means the thing hasn't yet been exposed to selective pressures, so there's no way to know (outside of a good guess) if the thing will succeed or fail. The only way to know for sure is to wait.

Let's switch angles and look at a negative of waiting: It could be possible for instance, that the crowd has blind spots. Blind spots could be caused by low interest in a certain area, or they could happen because the crowd needs to be a certain size for the signal to be strong enough to propagate. This could cause some things to be left behind after the initial new phase.

Personally, I can live with the risk of missing a few bits of information if it means I can be free from being beholden to the arbitrary, never ending stream of whatever happens to be new at the moment.