Friday, May 21, 2010

Confessions of a Reluctant Early Adopter

Do you remember your very first personal computer?

If the first PC you bought for your home could do little more than crunch numbers and run a simple spreadsheet application – and you paid about five times more than a state-of-the-art laptop would cost today, then you are probably an early adopter.

While I love my gadgets, I am happy to wait for the second generation for most of them. But I married an early adopter, which makes me a reluctant early adopter.

Don’t get me wrong. The world needs early adopters. After all, someone has to be first. Someone has to try the things the testers never thought of. Someone has to work out all those bugs. If noone ever bought first generation technologies the market would collapse before we ever got to the second and third generations – the good stuff.

But too often these first generation technologies become obsolete too quickly, or they become unaffordable to maintain. What happens to the gadgets early adopters buy that never catch on, or when that first generation technology is outdated?

We have a basement full of computer parts that we can’t part with because we “might need them some day”. This collection harkens back to the days when the best way to have a state-of-the-art personal computer was to buy cards and memory and computer accessories at computer shows – shows that were magnets for like-minded early adopters.

We own a laser disc player. (If you’re wondering what a laser disc player is and you’re over twenty-five you don’t qualify as an early adopter.) Most people skipped right from videotape to DVD, while my spouse was insisting that laser disc players were the wave of the future. He even paid extra for a feature so we didn’t have to get up to turn the disc over halfway through the movie. Do you think we can sell it on ebay?

For Christmas one year my gift was a photo iPod. It was the largest capacity iPod available at the time, and its claim to fame was that you could store photos (in addition to music) on it. It was quickly displaced in the market with iPods that were video-capable and played games. Just a couple of years later my new iPod Nano model has the same capacity, weighs about six pounds less, and even has a video camera.

We had to have a high definition TV as soon as they were available (despite the fact that we didn’t get an HD TV/cable signal until three years later). The large screen TV was indeed a welcome addition to our living room, but each projection bulb only lasted about a year. When the replacement bulbs could only be purchased from third party vendors at about the same cost as a brand new flat screen LCD TV, we knew it was time to move on.

So what does my technology-hungry spouse want now? An iPad? I could go for one of those (but will wait until the second generation). His eyes light up when he sees commercials for 3D HD TVs … and I have visions of 3D glasses gathering dust on the family room coffee table.

Okay, early adopters. Time to fess up. What’s in your basement?

16 comments:

Dave E said...

As far as consumer products go I'm firmly in the "never buy version one of anything" camp.

I threw out most of the old computer parts I had lying around in case they "came in handy" sometime. I figured if I hadn't used them by now I never would, although I do still have a box of cables and connectors labeled "Dave's magic box" that I rummage through whenever I need that sort of stuff. Hasn't failed me yet!

Software is different. since I'm in the software industry I 'try' lots of new stuff but only end up using a a small fraction of it. The rest sits in sort of virtual basement on my hard drive until I have a clear out (or the drive crashes!).
The problem with software is that you might invest a lot of time in the 'next great thing' only to see it fade into the background noise in a few months as the next great thing comes along.

Colette said...

Dave E - so what is the trick to getting someone to throw away those old computer parts? (not-so-hidden agenda here)

Maurice Frank said...

Hi Collette,

Should I be ashamed to admit we have -- still have -- a laser disc player? One day we will watch one of those movies :)

I am a life long packrat and I still have my IBM PC, the one that came with 5.25 inch 360K floppy drives.

One approach I used when I lived in apartments and had very little storage space was to go through my junk every six months. If I could not recall the last time I used something, or it was more than six months ago, and I did not know of a sure need for the item within the next six months, then it had to go. Hard for me, but necessary.

Good luck.

P.S.

When will my implantable cell phone be available?

Rob said...

I have really only "early adopted" one thing, a DVD player. I almost bought a laser disc back in 1996, but then DVD hit the market. I bought one, a Denon DVD player, I was the 1st kid on the block to have one! I had to drive from Lincoln, NE to Omaha, NE to BUY discs since no one rented them at that time. The media war back then was DVD or Divx - after much research I chose DVD, I chose right. I had that player for 10 years, that says two things: 1. Denon makes a hell of a product and 2. DVD - in the big picture (ha ha) - didn't change a lot. I have yet to get a Blu-ray, but that is will be coming soon...like maybe this weekend! Anyway, that is the only thing I ever "early adopted"

As far as the extra PC parts issue goes, this is my philosophy, when I upgrade parts I keep the low end parts around for that specific PC as repair parts for as along I have that PC. Then when I upgrade the entire PC the old parts go to the recycle place - with the old PC. Just like when I sold my Toyota 4 Runner, out when the Toyota spare parts and now I working on a "collection" of Subaru spare parts.

Colette,

I wanted to say that I am really happy to have come across your blog. It has provided me with good insight and improved my coping abilities with an unenjoyable boss. I will keep tuning in every Friday.

Thanks!

Rob

Colette said...

Ah-ha! I suspected there were a few early adopter/pack ratters out there.

Maurice, actually I'm relieved to hear we aren't the only ones with a laser disc player.

Rob, I'm really glad you are enjoying this site! Thanks for being here.

Anon_e_mouse said...

Back in the late '60s three manufacturers (Ricoh, Zeiss, and - eventually - Kodak) introduced full-featured cameras with interchangeable lenses that used Kodak's 126 cartridge film. At one time I owned Ricoh's version (which was a disaster - I had SEVEN of them, each one replaced under warranty, in a less than three year period) and along the way I acquired a Zeiss Contaflex 126 as well. The Ricohs and their lenses are long gone - traded in 1971 on a new Canon FTb (that I still have), but the Contaflex still lurks in the back of my closet, even though film hasn't been available in many, many years.

Colette said...

Anon-e-mouse - what a great story! I'm sure we have some old (i.e. film) cameras lying around.... and we have more digital cameras than I can count!

Anon_e_mouse said...

I've heard they make digital cameras nowadays... maybe in another few years I'll have to consider trying one. I'm still using the old Canon FTb (I've got three of them at this point), as well as five Exactas from the late 1930s through the early 1960s. But with the demise of Kodachrome I've lost much of my enthusiasm for photography... if my lenses would work on a digital body then I might feel differently, but I have far too much money invested in them to simply toss them aside.

kanishk said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Greg said...

I have an 8 track HOME stereo system in my crazy corner. Of course Betamax video. A minidisk player - that was going to revolutionise home and car stereo. In my PC box I have a set of token ring cards, multiple games that need 'at least DOS 2.0' and finally two separate versions of OS/2. I do recycle my old PCs to a local charity otherwise I'd have no room for anything else. My advice is to wait for version 2 of the iPAD (yes I have a Sony eReader also).

gary said...

I not only remember my first personal computer, I still have it. An Apple IIc. It was promoted as an early "portable" computer, although they didn't dwell on the facts that it used a CRT monitor and needed a power cord. No hard drive either. But the software was innovative - "Appleworks" integrated a word processor, database and spreadsheet long before Microsoft Office. So even though I haven't used it in years I just haven't been able to part with it.

I have purged old PC parts by giving them to a local school. They have a lab where they teach kids about computer guts, and even though the parts are old the kids can use them to build operable machines and learn what makes up a computer. If you donate to a public school you might get a tax deduction.

Didn’t buy a LaserDisk, but worked with several in my years of audio / video system integration. As an example of slow-moving Government, about three years after LaserDisks went away we were pulling our hair out trying to comply with a Federal agency contract that included two LaserDisks. Finally found them (new) as leftover stock in a big old warehouse, but had to find disks at a flea market in order to demonstrate that they worked. A/V certainly sees a lot of technology turnover.

Today we have a resurgence of electric cars and alternative energy sources. Early adaptors here have to develop and install much of the equipment for themselves, with questionable benefits for the time and money involved. But that’s the way it is with all early adopters. God bless them, because without them many of these technologies would never mature and become commonplace. Although gadgets become obsolete, keep the ones that you truly loved. They’re great conversation pieces, especially sharing with youngsters. Kids still get a kick out of my pinball machine, Pac-Man machine, Gameboy, and vinyl records. Some of this stuff is making a comeback – maybe yours will too.

Colette said...

Greg, I remember those 8-track systems. We used to listen to it while playing our Atari game system -- that one I actually wish I still had.

Gary, that early PC may actually be worth something some day! Your comment about the government contract really cracks me up.

Traub Motorcycle Detective said...

I think our blogger was talking about the early 1980s laser discs which were about the size of record albums (for those who have seen vinyl records) or about 12" to 16" in diameter. I didn't know that there was a small laser disc format in between video tape and dvd. An older lady my family knew bought one of the laser disc players and ended up purchasing a huge volume of the discs for pennies when they were discontinued. She bought it because she could mentally connect the disc with a vinyl record versus making the mental leap to video cassette- she never could understand that. And my sister, a media archivist, got the player and entire collection of discs when the lady passed away last year.

Anyone for HD cassette tape? No, because that went away quick too. I saw the format competition upclose with VHS and Betamax when my father was considering our first VCR back in the early 1980s. He rightly guessed that VHS with its higher recording time, even with lower quality, would trump Betamax in the contest. And this was from a guy who had kept reel to reel tapes after 8 track came and went, then tape cassettes gained popularity. And only a few years later some friends and I ended up using thrown away Betamax tapes for target shooting.

And what was the last and fastest format war? BluRay and HD DVD? People are onto format wars now and will hold off buying until a clear version is established when a product is available from multiple sources.

Colette said...

Traub Motorcycle Detective, I was indeed talking about the early laser disk players with discs that resembled the old vinyl records.

Target practice -- now there's an innovative use for old technology!

SteveB said...

A couple of comments:
1)I am a deliberate late, late adapter of personal technology - I had a PCjr and used it well after its useful live; have no use for a cell phone that does anything but send and receive calls - although I made my living selling "early adoption" of computers and all that entailed.
2)the new stuff seems to be coming at an accelerated pace - or is that just my perception as my reflexes slow - thank Steve Jobs and the Google heads.
3)my 4.5 yr old grandson manipulates 2 Wii controllers simultaneously to engage in some pretty complicated games - scary!

Colette said...

Steve B - I do think technology is coming at a faster pace. The good news is -- more choice, lower prices, and waiting until the second generation doesn't take as long!